Joy and Peace

Last week we began looking at the fruit of the Spirit as we discussed love.  While love has many meanings, particularly in the English language, the kind of love that God demonstrates for us and that we are to have for one another is a self sacrificing love.

The fruit of the Spirit are qualities that we as Christians should possess but they are not something that we can simply decide to attempt to possess.  They are marks of maturity.  While as human beings we may demonstrate some manner of these qualities, it is only with God’s help that we are capable of having them perfectly, or at least fully as perfection is probably too high to attain.

The fruit of the Spirit are given by the Holy Spirit and only come through trial.  We learn these qualities as we are refined by the Holy Spirit.  The things that detract from these qualities are burned away over time and experience.  Only then do we gain these qualities.  With this in mind, let’s take a look at the next two qualities this morning, joy and peace.

Galatians 5:22-26

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

Some equate joy with happiness and while it is true that they are similar and in some ways overlapping emotions, they are not the same.  To state it most simply, you can be unhappy and still be joyful.  Paul had this concept mastered better than most of us ever will.  To the Philippians he wrote in Philippians 4:4:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!

To the Thessalonians he wrote one of the shortest verses in the bible in 1 Thessalonians 5:16:

Rejoice always

If we expand a bit further for context we get an even better idea of what Paul meant – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Finally, Paul writes in Philippians 4:10-12:

10 I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.

What Paul describes to the Philippians is true joy.  Paul had the right to tell the Thessalonians to rejoice always because Paul had lived that.  My mentor has said before that there are two people’s lives in the Bible that he would not want to have lived – David and Paul.  These two are among our greatest heroes but neither had an easy life.  Paul writes of his difficulties to the Corinthians in 2 Corinthians 11:24-26:

24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers.

If you want to speak of a difficult life, Paul has lived it.  And he did this after living what I would assume was a life of luxury.  Not only was Paul a Pharisee but he was a wealthy one prior to his conversion to Christianity.  Paul could have bemoaned all that he gave up, particularly as he was being beaten or imprisoned for the gospel.  Instead, what we see time after time is that Paul is simply more emboldened to share the good news.

I do not like to hold myself up as an example because I am a very imperfect man.  However, I do believe that God has called me to be a testimony for Him through all of this.  Two years ago yesterday was when I had my colon surgery.  Roughly 18 inches, or about one third of my colon was removed.  Two weeks to the day after that we found that Merissa had miscarried a second time.  This came almost three years to the day from her first miscarriage.  And the following Sunday, those of you who were here should remember that I stood in this very spot and declared that God is still good.

Now the Lord has blessed us with a son and I am battling cancer once again but with a much tougher diagnosis.  And I can tell you that there is still joy to be found because it is not dependent on outside circumstances.  To me, joy is dependent upon the goodness of God.  I may be unhappy about the circumstances but that does not change the fact that God is good one bit.

It is far too easy to blame God when things go wrong in our lives.  In times of tragedy people will ask “Where was God?” or “Why does God allow bad things to happen?”  Nowhere have we been promised that we would avoid hardship in life.  Some people are led to become Christians, believing that their troubles would disappear.  If anything, life is harder for the Christian because Satan has little interest in destroying someone who already belongs to him.

Jesus warned us that there would be trouble.  In John 16:33 He says:

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

So how do we have joy in a life that Jesus Himself told us would be full of trouble?  The answer is to gain some perspective.  The average lifespan is now approaching 80 years in industrialized countries.  Depending on how close you are to that number, that may or may not seem like a lot.  Even if we vastly outlive that average, our time on earth is but a speck of a speck in light of eternity.  It is easy to focus on the “here and now” because that’s where we live but the reality is that no matter how great our troubles are, they will not last forever.  On the other hand, we were made to enjoy God forever.  And the rest of our time won’t be in these frail and sinful bodies.  It will be in a glorified body that is made to last forever.

Jesus instructed in John 12:25:

Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

This sounds like double talk but it is the key to joy.  Jesus does not want us to literally hate our lives, we should enjoy the time that we have here on earth, but we need to keep eternity in our minds while we go about life.  Jesus is telling us that we need to live in light of eternity, not just what is presently in front of us.  When we focus on eternity, even the most horrible things that we see around our world don’t seem so terrible because we can rest assured that God is still in control and there will be an accounting for the things that break our hearts today.

Peace is closely related to joy.  It is difficult to have one without the other in my opinion.  Many of the fruit of the Spirit are things that a person might naturally be but it is only perfected with the Holy Spirit.  I am naturally calm and collected which I get from my mother.  My father is pretty much the opposite of that.

Just as an example, a few years ago when I lived in Virginia and before I was married I had a little incident where I burned down my shed.  I was talking to Merissa on the phone at the time when I walked into my kitchen and saw my shed aflame.  And my reaction was pretty much “Hey, I gotta go, my shed’s on fire.”  That’s me, that’s a natural peace that some people have and some people obviously don’t.

The fruit of the Spirit is a supernatural peace.  There are two kinds of peace in life.  There is an outward peace and there is an inward peace.  Eastern religions often stress inward peace and promote meditation.  Anabaptists, which we are as Brethren in Christ, are pacifists which is an outward peace.  Outward peace is fine and is a good thing to strive for but the kind of peace that we’re talking about here is an inner peace.

Much like joy, peace does not depend on circumstances.  We can have peace inwardly even when everything around us is going wrong.  Likewise, outward peace does not always lead to inward peace.  Recently our government has reached an agreement with Iran concerning its nuclear program.  I have not read the details and I have no opinion on whether this is a good deal or not.  What I do know is that despite what appears to be an outward peace, there are many who do not have inward peace because of this deal.  If anything, it has taken away their inner peace.

As I said a moment ago, joy and peace are closely related.  For this reason, it should be no surprise that we find the definition of peace in Philippians 4 as well.  Philippians 4:7-9

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

As I read this, I see two parts to peace.  The first is that peace comes from God.  Sometimes we speak about a peace that passes understanding.  This peace can only come from God.  It may be given by the Holy Spirit but I don’t believe that it is anything that is achievable through any action of our own.  I don’t know if you’ve ever been in a situation where God has given you this peace that passes understanding but I can tell you from personal experience that it almost defies description.

Two years ago when I first went into the hospital and I had no idea what was going on, I ended up passing out in the ER bathroom.  The next ten minutes were a blur of people and hooking me up to machines and IV’s.  But once things calmed down, my room was empty.  Merissa wasn’t even with me at that time because we had no reason to think that anything was serious when I first went.  At that time I just found myself humming a hymn.  I don’t remember what it was now but I distinctly recall lying in the ER with an IV in each arm and several monitors and probably oxygen as well and I was just tremendously at peace.  None of what had happened bothered me in the least bit because I knew God was in control of it all.

I’ve probably told that part of the story before.  What I haven’t told is that I was scheduled for a CT scan before passing out.  They still ended up doing the CT scan anyway.  But the doctors misread the scan.  I’ve seen the write up myself.  The doctors found the polyp but because they didn’t expect to see something that size in a healthy 33 year old, they didn’t view it as a problem.  I don’t know for a fact, but I personally believe that if I hadn’t passed out, the doctors wouldn’t have ordered more tests and they might not have found the cancer until it was too late.  I believe the peace that I felt that night was God reminding me that He knows what He is doing despite what the circumstances look like.

In the last two years I have had doctor after doctor tell me how fortunate I was to catch the cancer when I did because there are usually no symptoms.  And God gave me peace throughout every doctor’s visit and procedure that I went through.  I will tell you that hearing the word cancer is a shock and I do believe that it is the scariest word in the English language, but I can tell you straight faced that not once was I ever worried about the outcome.  That may seem impossible but it is true because it’s not about me but the fact that I serve a God of peace.

There is another half of peace however, and this is where our part to play comes in.  Paul says “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

This is what we must do in order to obtain peace.  This is like joy where we have to keep things in perspective.  It is easy for our thoughts to go negative in times of trouble.  Don’t let them so much as it is within your power.  Focus your thoughts on positive things.  I’m sorry if that sounds cliché or like far too many self help gurus but it is the truth.  If anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things.

We begin to worry when we take our mind off of excellent or praiseworthy things.  God is the source of excellent and praiseworthy things.  The things that we worry about are beyond our control and that’s why we worry about them.  But we worship a God who is in control over the things that our beyond our control.

I know some of you are type A personalities.  Women are more likely to be wired this way for whatever reason but there are plenty of men who are like this as well.  Type A personalities need to have control.  And because of this, peace is something that they struggle with.  God is in control and God is a God of peace.  I’m sure Merissa gets tired of hearing me say that God is in control but that thought is truly the source of my peace.  Because I am mostly able to just surrender my life to whatever God wants of it.  And at this point, I mean literally surrender my life.

I know that some of you are more worried about me than I am worried about me.  And I really do appreciate the concern.  But I can also tell you that I am at peace with the situation.  I am praying for healing but that’s not all that I’m praying for.  I am not interested in just being someone who beats the odds or even someone who is miraculously healed.  God has allowed this to happen for a reason and I do not believe that it is just a test of faith.  I am convinced that He is going to use this to show others His goodness.  I don’t know how yet but I am sure that I am going to have ample opportunities in the upcoming months and probably years.

This morning I’ve made things a bit more personal than usual.  I’ve used myself as an illustration because these are two traits that I believe I have exhibited in difficult times.  But I will echo the words of Paul and say “follow me as I follow Christ.”  I am not a perfect example and don’t think for a moment that I am.  Right now I am at the beginning of another difficult journey.  And in the months to come there are going to be rough days.  And there are probably going to be days when I am not feeling as joyful or at peace as I am today.

Please don’t hold my humanity against me.  The fruit of the Spirit are qualities that we strive for but also ones that we won’t perfectly attain.  When we allow our lives to be controlled by the Spirit we will see these things exhibited in ourselves.  But when we try to take back control, as we all do at times, that’s when these qualities will disappear.  So I simply say, yield to the Spirit as much as you are able and when you fail, try to do better next time.

Legends, Fairy Tales, Truth or Traditions

Galatians 5:7

By Ron Schwartz
kmsrjs@triton.net

The Word of Truth

Acts 3:1-8 (KJV)

1 Now Peter and John went up together into the temple at the hour of prayer, being the ninth hour.

2 And a certain man lame from his mother’s womb was carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, to ask alms of them that entered into the temple;

3 Who seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple asked an alms.

4 And Peter, fastening his eyes upon him with John, said, Look on us.

5 And he gave heed unto them, expecting to receive something of them.

6 Then Peter said, Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk.

7 And he took him by the right hand, and lifted him up: and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength.

8 And he leaping up stood, and walked, and entered with them into the temple, walking, and leaping, and praising God.

What do you see in this scripture?

Some of you would say ‘faith,’ while others would say ‘boldness.’  Still others might respond ‘the power of God,’ ‘spiritual gifts,’ or ‘confidence.’  I’ve asked this question of many people over the years and I have yet to hear this reply: ‘Me!’

The doctrine that Jesus taught His disciples (including Paul) contained no theory.  It was all about a way of living.  He instructed His followers in discipleship, He counseled them against hypocrisy, and He explained to them the scriptures.  Hence, the disciples went forth practicing this same doctrine and teaching others to do so.  For this reason, the first century Church knew great power, growth, and authority.  They simply believed and obeyed the gospel they received.

When we consider the Church described in the Book of Acts we must ask, “What happened?”  How did the Church go from a vibrant, growing assembly of believers (who preached the same message as Jesus and demonstrated His power) to the stagnant, powerless, divided Church we see today?  What happened?  The answer is simple: sin and compromise.

For example, the military has devised a way to keep missiles from hitting the jets at which they are shot.  It’s known as a countermeasure.  When a jet detects that a missile has it locked on, it begins to release chaff.  Chaff is a reflective material like tin foil that creates a cloud behind the jet. The cloud of chaff becomes larger and larger, causing the missile to home in on the center of the cloud.  The larger the cloud becomes, the further away from the jet the missile will explode.  The missile misses the mark, just as we do when we sin (as we all know that “sin” means “to miss the mark”).  The example demonstrates not just what sin is (missing the mark), but possibly more importantly, how it comes to be so prevalent in the Church.

In the example of the missile, the jet represents the truth.  When we embrace the “Word of Truth,” we hit the mark.  As decades and centuries have passed since Jesus and His apostle preached the gospel, a cloud of doctrines and traditions made by men have grown around the Truth.  Today, it has become almost impossible to find the Truth as men glorify and promote their doctrines and traditions.   However, as in the case of the missile, the jet stayed the same, and so does the Truth.  The gospel we believe and preach should be the same as the gospel preached by the apostles.  It is not dispensational, it is not a respecter of persons (as though it were just for the early apostles), and it never ever changes.  It is timeless!

Where should we worship?

John 4:5-24 (KJV)

5 Then cometh he to a city of Samaria, which is called Sychar, near to the parcel of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph…

20 Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.

21 Jesus saith unto her, Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father.

22 Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews.

23 But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him.

24 God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.

In this story, Jesus comes to a well situated on a mountain that Jacob once owned about 2,000 years before.  There He met a woman who needed an answer to her question, the same question men have been asking since the dawn of time: where should we worship?

She explained the argument to Jesus as she understood it.  Why do the Jews worship in Jerusalem?  There is nothing holy concerning that city.  It’s just a place that your King David decided to use.  Is he greater than Abraham or Jacob?

She was correct in that God was with Abraham and Jacob, and that they did worship God on that mountain.  However, God moved on.  About 500 years after that, we find God on a different mountain giving the law to Moses, and His people worshiped Him there.  But God moved on.  About 500 years after that, we find God coming down to inhabit the Temple in Jerusalem.  Once again, His people worshipped Him there.  But something was about to happen to the Temple.  The Veil was about to be ripped from top to bottom, and God was going to move on once again.  Jesus spoke this to her when He said, “the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth.”

Throughout history, each time God has moved, men have tried to bottle it and define it as a recipe for success.  This is how most denominations have come to be.  Great men of faith have walked before us and we seen, heard and marveled at their works and relationships with God.  Following them, men attempted to imitate their form of worship in a hope of having what they had.   But it is nothing more than an imitation, and God has moved on.  As great as men like Luther and Wesley were, they were just men, and they are now dead, just like Abraham, Jacob, and Moses.   God does not acknowledge you in your affiliations.  If He did, then we should build a church on top of Mount Sinai and worship God there.

Consider this woman’s question.  She had been so distracted by the religious arguments of the day that she never even noticed that the answer to her question now stood before her.  God was in Jesus, and through His son He had returned once again to the mountain where Jacob had served Him in the past.  It is not the well, nor the mountain, no place that is special: it is God.  It is not the church we attend or the doctrines to which we hold that mean anything.  It is all about God.

Like this woman, sometimes believers are so enamored with their buildings and doctrines that they never notice that God is not present in their midst.  Is it possible that we have become so lost in the doctrinal discussions of our time that we completely miss the fact that God is not present with us?

Why do we do what we do?

Acts 17:16-23 (KJV)

16 Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry.

17 Therefore disputed he in the synagogue with the Jews, and with the devout persons, and in the market daily with them that met with him.

18 Then certain philosophers of the Epicureans, and of the Stoicks, encountered him. And some said, What will this babbler say? other some, He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods: because he preached unto them Jesus, and the resurrection.

19 And they took him, and brought him unto Areopagus, saying, May we know what this new doctrine, whereof thou speakest, is?

20 For thou bringest certain strange things to our ears: we would know therefore what these things mean.

21 (For all the Athenians and strangers which were there spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing.)

22 Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars’ hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious.

23 For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you.

Imagine Paul in the marketplace looking to purchase food.  A man passes by with a large basket of dates and figs.

“Kind sir, may I purchase some of those dates and figs?”  Paul asks.

“No,” the man replies briskly, then turns and places the fruit methodically on an altar.  Paul cannot help but notice the inscription on the altar: To The Unknown God.

As the man turns to leave, Paul asks him, “What god do you worship here?”

“I don’t know,” the man responds.

“What’s his name?”

“I don’t know that either.”

“But you do know that he requires dates and figs?”

“No, I don’t know that either.”

Very puzzled, Paul then asks, “Is there anyone in this city who can answer these questions?”

“Well… I think there was at one time an old man who knew something about this god, but he died before I was born.”

By now Paul can hardly contain himself.  “Why then do you bring him figs and dates?  How do you know that is what he wants?”

The man thinks for a moment, then answers, “Well, because my father brought figs and dates and so did his father.”

Paul considers this for a moment. “Just what did your father do for a living?”

“Both he and my grand father raised figs and dates, and so do I.”

Finally, a bewildered Paul makes this observation: “So you worship — you don’t know what — a god — you don’t know who — in a way — you don’t know how.”

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Why do I worship God the way I do?
  • Why do I serve God the way I do?
  • Why do I believe the doctrines I do?

Can you answer these questions?  Then ask yourself this: do you believe and worship the way you do because that is the way your church does?  Have you ever sought out the scriptures to KNOW that you know that the worship, beliefs, and doctrines you hold as sacred are indeed the very gospel Jesus and his disciples taught?

Years ago, when I first became a Christian, I began to see discrepancies between the Bible and the practices of the church I attended.  I remember asking my counselor why things were done as they were.  His reply is something that I continue to hear from believers to this day: “There are over 100,000 people who are a part of this denomination.  If we are wrong, wouldn’t you think that someone would notice it?”

Is not this the same argument that each denomination uses?  Are they all correct in what and how they practice what they believe?  It’s not just denominations who believe numbers equate to truth.  Even small gatherings of believers can find themselves congregating together around an idea or a man and not around the Word of Truth.  We must always come back to this very question: do I hold fast to the doctrine taught by Jesus and his disciples?

The Space Shuttle and ruts in the road 

I want to share with you something that is sometimes taught to engineering students.  When the opportunity rises, examine a picture of the Space Shuttle.  It has a huge tank attached to its underside and two solid fuel rocket boosters (SRBs) attached to the sides of the tank.   The solid fuel rocket boosters have been problematic for NASA.  Everyone either remembers or has heard of the Space Shuttle Challenger.  Challenger exploded minutes after launch because of one of the SRBs.  The engineers who designed the Space Shuttle wanted to make the SRBs shorter rather than long and slender (like a pencil).  So, let’s do the incomprehensible and ask the question: why are the SRBs designed as they are?

As it turns out, the SRBs are manufactured at a factory in Utah.  From the plant in Utah, the SRBs are shipped by train to the launch site. To get to the launch site the train must travel through a tunnel in the mountains.  The SRBs must fit through that tunnel, which itself is only slightly wider than the railroad track.  So, let’s ask the next question: why are railroad tracks the width they are?

Railroads throughout the United States are 4 foot 8.5 inches between the rails.  Well, that seems like such an odd number, so let’s ask the next logical question: why are they 4 foot 8.5 inches?  Because that’s the width they were built in England, and it was English immigrants who built the railroads in the United States.  This goes all the way back to the 1800’s.

Okay, then why did they build the railroads in England to this specification?  It turns out that the first railroads were built by the same people who built the tramways (or trolley cars).  Okay, so now we’re back to the 1700’s.  Before you ask, the tramways used this same specification (4 foot 8.5 inches) because they were built by the same people who built the wagonways and wagons.  Now were back into the 1500’s, still with the same specifications.

Wagonways were nothing more than wagons pulled by horses across a primitive wooden rail system.  The people who built the tramways used the same jigs and tools that they had used to build the wagons and wagonways.  Wagons were used for thousands of years and the standard wheel base (4 feet 8.5 inches) has always been the same.  I know what you’re going to ask next: why were wagons built to this specification?

The first primitive road system in Europe was the ancient Roman road, built primarily for the Roman Legions.  These roads were built out of solid rock, and they were about 6 feet deep.  Because of their design, they tended to last for centuries, and they were found all over Europe.  As it turns out, these roads had grooves that had been worn into them after decades and centuries of use by the wheels of Roman chariots.  Therefore, the people who built wagons had to build them so the wagon wheels fit perfectly in the groves.  If they did not, the wagon would tear itself apart.

We have now arrived at the last question: why were Roman chariots built to this specification?  As it turns out, the Romans built their chariots to be the same width as the two horses that were destined to pull it, that is, 4 feet 8.5 inches.  So the next time you see the Space Shuttle ready for launch take a good look at the SRBs and consider the fact that their diameter was determined thousands of years ago by the width of a couple of horses.

Isn’t it interesting how one tradition led to the next and the next and the next?  One tradition led to a standard. That standard became a rule that eventually became a law.  This law is now so engrained into our transportation system that it will probably never be changed.  Go to some railroad headquarters and them if they can change the width of railroads.  In doing so, trains wouldn’t require as many cars to transport goods, and they would not need to be nearly as long.  Their reply is predictable: the cost of such a change is too great.  Every train and every track across the continent would have to change.  It’s much easier to leave things as they are.

How much is this like believers of today.  I constantly meet believers who struggle with the Word of Truth.  They recognize that their lives are not in alignment with the scriptures, but neither are those of the others in their church.  If no one else is changing, why should they?

The Sheep Market

John 5:2-9 (KJV)

2 Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep market a pool, which is called in the Hebrew tongue Bethesda, having five porches.

3 In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water.

4 For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had.

5 And a certain man was there, which had an infirmity thirty and eight years.

6 When Jesus saw him lie, and knew that he had been now a long time in that case, he saith unto him, Wilt thou be made whole?

7 The impotent man answered him, Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool: but while I am coming, another steppeth down before me.

8 Jesus saith unto him, Rise, take up thy bed, and walk.

9 And immediately the man was made whole, and took up his bed, and walked: and on the same day was the sabbath.

Now, the Bible never actually says that anyone was ever healed there.  The man suggests they were when he said, “when the water is troubled… another steppeth down before me (John 5:7).”  Remember the (Catholic) stories of the children and women who have reported to have seen the virgin Mary at a particular place?  What followed each of these encounters is that the spot eventually becomes a shrine, a spot where miracles are alleged to take place for centuries that follow.  Now I ask you, is this God’s way?  Does God tend to select a parcel of ground and then bless it?  If so, maybe we should build a church on Mount Sinai where God first met Moses, where the law was given, and where His covenant was made with man.  Surely, that must be a holy place, no?

Perhaps it goes more like this: a prophet once stood in that very spot and said, “One day a man will come here and trouble the waters of Israel.  He who steps into the water will find rest, but he who waits will know no peace.”  Then followed years, decades, and quite possibly even centuries of the story being told and retold until it eventually came to take on a completely different meaning.  First, it was a “man sent from God.”  Later it became “a messenger from God,” and eventually “an angel of the Lord.”  Finally, the story became that that very spot that was blessed and destined to become a shrine for the Divine (rhyme not intended).  What if that was not what the prophet had intended at all?  What if it was a prophecy about Christ that men had enshrined (they have a habit of doing that)?  Going a step further, what if from time to time, as wind whipped across the water, people claimed to see an angel.  Then through the hysteria of the moment as people pushed, shoved, clawed, and screamed while trying to enter, someone would claim healing.  Have we today ever heard or witnessed anything like that?

Perhaps over the course of time, men became enamored with their traditions and legends, and the original prophecy was completely lost.  Perhaps what they came to accept as truth had no foundation in the truth at all.  Perhaps the original word became so misinterpreted that, when the prophecy was fulfilled, no one there understood.  It is quite possible that Jesus came as the man who troubled the waters of Israel, and we know that there were those who freely accepted Him as Lord and those who drew back.

Try to imagine what it would have been like.  Jesus shows up as that messenger of the Lord and the one who troubles the waters.  He stood there able to heal and deliver each soul but no one noticed Him.  He had the power to give life and healing to all who were present, but no one sees Him.  Why?  Because they were too busy with their shrine.  They were caught up in their legends and habits and didn’t notice that the prophecy was being fulfilled right before their eyes.  Once again, why?  Because that’s how they always did it.  That’s the way their fathers did it, the way their fathers’ fathers did it, and no one dared to challenge the accepted standard.

I believe that we can and should question the standard.  Are our actions and our faith rooted in the Word of the Lord or in generations of legends and fairytales that we have accepted as the truth our whole lives long?

Amen!

Paul’s Letter to the Galatians – Part 4

Galatians 5:1-12

by Paul George

Christian liberty. Christ set the Galatians free from the bondage of darkness they were in and they must not permit the Judaizers to bring them into the bondage of the law. Paul has shown the Galatians and today’s Christian we are not under any obligation to submit to the demands of the law. We entered a state of liberty under the gospel, set free from the burden of the ceremonial law and the curse of the moral law. Jesus Christ set us free by His merits; He satisfied the demands of the broken law and by His authority as a king has relieved us of the obligation of the law. Submitting to the demand of the law is a contradiction of the gospel. We forfeit the liberty provided by Jesus Christ when we submit to the law. Does this mean we are not to obey the law to the best of our ability? No. We are not to submit to the law for the wrong reason, which is as a means of justification as the Judaizers were advocating. Submitting to the law or obeying the law for the wrong reason can and will cause us to fall away from the gospel. It will cause us to fall back into the darkness we were in before Christ lifted us out of the darkness into light. Paul told the Galatians Christ would profit them nothing if they submitted to the gospel on the grounds advocated by the Judaizers.

What are the Christians looking for and desiring? Paul answers the question, “the hope of righteousness” (Galatians 5:5). This is the hope of Christians, it is the great object of their hope, which they are above every thing else desiring and pursuing this hope. The hope of righteousness is founded on righteousness, not of their own, but that of our Lord Jesus. We obtain this righteousness through faith and not the law. Through the righteousness of Christ alone, that He has procured for us. Through the influence of the Holy Spirit and His assistance, we are able to believe on Christ, and to look for the hope of righteousness through Him. Christ is the end of the law, now it is not whether a man submitted to the ceremonial law but has he believed in Christ to be justified. The requirement submission to the ceremonial law or any other ritual is an unreasonable requirement.

When in danger of backsliding Christians need to remember how they began their relationship with God. The life of a Christian is a race, wherein he must run, and hold on, if he wants to win the race. It is not enough that we run in this race, by a profession of faith, but we must run well, by living up to that profession. This is what the Galatians did for a while, but they encountered an obstruction just as we do. Either they quit running or they slowed down. Paul asked the Galatians a question we need to ask when we encounter an obstacle and either quit the race or slow down. “Who hindered you?” (Galatians 5:7).  Paul knew what it was that hindered them; but he wanted them to answer the question. He wanted them to determine if they had a good reason to forfeit the liberty they had obtained. He wanted them to offer sufficient evidence to justify their present conduct.

Many who begin the race run well for a while but a hindrance in their progress quiet the race and forfeit their liberty.  Christians must always be aware of the fact that Satan will lay obstacles in their way. He will do all he can steal the liberty they have obtained and put them in bondage. Whenever they find themselves in danger of falling away from the gospel and forfeiting their liberty, they need to determine what or who is hindering their progress in the race. The Galatians were falling away from the gospel and forfeiting their liberty because they listened to the wrong people. It is heartbreaking when we see thousands of people who began the race and ran for a while following millionaire supposed men and women of God, and falling into their web of deceit and darkness.

The gospel Paul preached and they accepted and professed was the truth. It was the only true way of justification and salvation and in order to enjoy the advantage of the gospel preached it must be obeyed. The truth is not only to be believed, but also obeyed, to be received not only in the light of it, but also in the love and power of it. Those who do not obey the truth, who do not steadfastly adhere to it, forfeit the liberty obtained.

The obstacle to the liberty that they have in Christ did not come from Christ. The obstacle came from the Judaizers. The Judaizers are like “a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough” (Galatians 5:9). The dough represents Christianity that can be tainted and corrupted by one such erroneous principle, or one member of it may infect the Christian society, and this is what the Galatians will do if they yield to the teachings of the Judaizers. It is dangerous for Christian churches to encourage those among them who propagate destructive errors. This was the case here. The doctrine, which the false teachers were teaching and which some in these churches accepted as the truth was subversive of Christianity itself, as the apostle had before shown. If these false teachers are permitted to teach their false doctrine it might spread further and wider and result in the utter ruin of the truth and liberty of the gospel. There is only one way to remove the obstacle, remove the source.

Paul told the Galatians they should stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ had made them free. They should be very careful that they did not use the liberty to indulge themselves in any corrupt affections and practices that might create quarrels and contentions among them. They should love and serve each other, maintain a mutual love and affection so that any minor differences there might be among them, would not affect the respect and kindness to each other.

The liberty we enjoy as Christians is not a licentious liberty. Though we ought to stand fast in our Christian liberty, we should not use it as an occasion of strife and contention with our fellow Christians but should always maintain an attitude of love. This is what Paul is trying to convey to the Galatians. They are to love their neighbor as themselves. Love is the sum of the whole law; as love to God comprises the duties of the first table, so love to our neighbor is the duties of the second. The apostle takes notice of the latter because he is speaking of their behavior towards one another. This would be evidence of their sincerity in their relation to God and the most likely means of rooting out those dissensions and divisions that were among them.

The sad and dangerous tendency of a contrary behavior. Instead of acting like men and Christians, they would behave more like beasts. Mutual strife among brethren, if persisted in, is likely to prove a common ruin. Christian churches cannot be ruined if Christians help one another and do not act like beasts, biting and devouring each other. What can be expected when Christians act like beasts? The God of love will deny His grace to them, the Spirit of love will depart from them, and the evil spirit, who seeks the destruction of them all, will prevail. The best antidote against the poison of sin is to walk in the Spirit. Commit ourselves to the guidance of the word, wherein the Holy Spirit makes known the will of God.
Paul identifies the works of the flesh are sins against the seventh commandment, such as adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness.  Some are sins against the first and second commandments, as idolatry and sorcery. Others are sins against our neighbor, and contrary to the royal law of brotherly love, hatred, variance, wrath and strife. Others are sins against ourselves, such as drunkenness and revellings.  Paul gives us fair warning these sins will separate us from God. They will shut men out of heaven if they have not been washed and justified in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. God will never admit them into His presence.

Paul specifies the fruits of the Spirit, or the renewed nature, which as Christians we are to bring forth. The sins that shut men out of heaven are called the works of the flesh because the flesh, or corrupt nature, is the source of these sins. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control are evidence of the renewed nature of men. They are called the fruits of the Spirit because they proceed from the Holy Spirit, as the fruit does from the tree.

The works of the flesh, which are not only hurtful to the individual, they tend to make an individual hurtful to others. The fruits of the Spirit have a tendency to make Christians agreeable one to another. Those in whom these fruits of the Spirit are found, the apostle says, there is no law condemning them.  These fruits of the Spirit, in whomsoever they are found, plainly show that that person is led by the Holy Spirit. It also reveals the person who is led by the Holy Spirit have crucified the flesh with all its affections and lusts. Our relationship with God requires us not only to die unto sin, but also to live unto righteousness; not only to oppose the works of the flesh, but also to bring forth the fruits of the Spirit. This must be our sincere desire, to be like Jesus.  “If we profess to have received the Spirit of Christ, or that we are renewed in the Spirit of Christ, or that we are renewed in the spirit of our minds, let us show it by the proper fruits of the Spirit in our lives.

Paul concludes this chapter with a caution against pride and envy. Now, as a means of encouraging them he cautions them against being desirous of vain-glory, or giving way to an undue affectation of the esteem and applause of men, because this, if it were indulged, would certainly lead them to provoke one another and to envy one another. The glory that comes from men is vainglory, which, instead of being desirous of, we should be dead to it.