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Christ Creates Holy Living
Winter Quarter: Creation – A Divine Cycle
Unit 3: The Birthing of a New Community
Sunday school lesson for the week of February 26, 2017
By Helen and Rev. Sam Rogers
Lesson scripture: Galatians 5:18-6:10
We conclude this unique study of God’s cycle of creation with the creating work of Christ through the Holy Spirit birthing the people who will live holy lives in the Church and in the world. After all, Jesus was sent by the Father to do just that – and the work goes on.
How? Let’s listen to Paul. Remember last week we focused on the civil war raging between the “flesh = selfish impulses” and the “Spirit.” Paul continues to map out the contours of that war in today’s scripture. He begins with, “IF you are led by the Spirit.” Certainly a big “IF,” implying we have the freedom to choose. Paul gives a vivid description of the choice based on selfish impulses. The list is not exhaustive, but very illuminating. The actions Paul describes do not focus on the desires, but on the behavioral consequences. Three are sexual in nature, two deal with worship of false gods, and eight of the 15 reflect what undermines life in the community. The ultimate consequence of all is no inheritance in the Kingdom of God.
One of the highlights of this entire lesson is the way the individual Christian is to live in the Church and the world. Too often we phrase our questions about faith as if they were purely personal, individual, with no reference to the wider community of believers and, indeed, our influence in the community sharing life on the planet Earth. Salvation is much more than your final destination!
Immediately after being specific about “the works of the flesh,” Paul moves to one of the most profound passages in scripture: “the fruit of the spirit.” The most obvious comment is to note the singularity of the word “fruit” – not fruits! All the fruits have one common Source – the Holy Spirit. They are not personality traits we can develop, imitate, or make habitual. Each is the outgrowth of a life-choice to be led by the Spirit.
This choice is not a “once for all” decision, but a daily one. Now is a good time to recall that memory verse when we did sword drills as children. Galatians 2:20 states bluntly: “I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives within me.” “Flesh = selfish impulses” must be crucified daily so the fruit can grow and work their healing way in both Church and world. Is it necessary to remind us of Jesus’ commandment? “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily, and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)
The list begins with love – “agape,” and the placement is not accidental. As in I Corinthians 13:13, love is the greatest. Unconditional love is at the heart of the Christian community, when we love one another as Christ loved us. That love spills over and spreads out to touch many others.
For the only time in Galatians, Paul speaks of joy, which is never affected by changing circumstances, but rests solely on the constant presence of God. “Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4)
Peace/shalom is not the absence of conflict, but steadfastness in the midst of the storm. Patience comes from the Greek word meaning “long-suffering,” for there is risk involved in living a Spirit-led life. Kindness is what we do when attacked, rather than responding “in kind.” Generosity is better translated “goodness,” which reflects not so much what a person is like, but what a person seeks or produces. Faithfulness is basically trust in God, no matter what. If kindness is what we do, then gentleness is how we do it. Gentleness relates to a quietness and mildness of spirit. Finally, self-control is the ultimate answer to living legalistically. The control comes from within and is not outwardly enforced.
He concludes his list of the fruit of life in the Spirit, with a gentle jab at his opponents, “there is no law against things like this,” and ends this part of his letter with “those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the self…” Again, the choice is ours…another mark of the freedom Christ brings.
Next, Paul moves to how we are to live together a Spirit-led life. There is no room for self-righteousness – “I can do anything better than you…no you can’t…yes I can!” When that attitude prevails, quarrels and jealousies erupt in the family of faith, destroying the power of the witness we make in the world.
Paul then recognizes the reality of sin in the Church and gives advice on how to handle it. The gift of gentleness is the key element in restoring the health of the Body of Christ, but again, he warns self-righteousness lurks close by.
Mutual burden bearing is a hallmark of the community of faith and the acknowledgement that we all have burdens. No one in the Church has no need of the love and support of others. Self-sufficiency is one of those “selfish impulses = flesh” where we fall prey to the culture which holds up independence and strength as marks of maturity. No one wants to admit they need help. We love the work of J.K. Rowling in the Harry Potter novels. Harry tries to go it alone until his friends, Hermione and Ron, remind him he cannot confront evil by himself. Times will occur when we need others, and they need us! Read the words of the hymn, “Blest Be the Tie that Binds!”
The final point Paul makes focuses specifically on “the household of faith.” The metaphor of the family is not accidental. The health and joy within the family of faith is so critical, not only for the individual believer, but also for those outside the family who see what is happening within the family. How many disagreements, fights, and attitudes within the Church have been seen by those outside, to the detriment of the work of Christ in the world?
E. Stanley Jones, a Methodist missionary to India, once asked Mahatma Gandhi why he was not a Christian. Gandhi’s response was devastating. I love your Jesus, but Christians don’t love like Him. This answer was prompted by the experience Gandhi had in South Africa. After graduating from Cambridge University in England, he went to South Africa to practice law. Going to church one Sunday, he was barred from entering because of his color.
Never forget, the Spirit-led health of the Church is crucial to the redemptive work of Jesus in the world. “Let’s not get tired of doing good, because in time we’ll have a harvest, if we don’t give up.” (vs.6:9) Yes, we are unashamedly “do-gooders!”
Helen and Rev. Sam Rogers are a retired clergy couple. They can be reached at email@example.com.