Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Keep Up the Good Work!

Part 15 of a series through Galatians.

Text: Galatians 6:7-10

Have you done any spring? Have you planted any seeds? There's a principle in agriculture and in Scripture: You reap what you sow. "Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life" (vv. 7-8).

How we live has consequences:
  • If you sow to the flesh, you will reap corruption. People who think they can fool God are only fooling themselves.
  • If you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life. Does this mean that eternal life is earned by good works? No, eternal life is a gift received by faith. But believers are doers. Eternal life is quantity and quality of life. It is a present possession, but we will not fully enjoy it until eternity (like picking berries and eating a few versus enjoying a blueberry pie).
One way to sow to the Spirit is by doing good. Five truths about doing good:
  1. Doing good can become exhausting. "Let us not become weary in doing good" (v. 9a).

  2. Doing good will be rewarded. "For at the proper time we will reap a harvest" (v. 9b). Remember: (1) You reap more than you sow. One seed can produce countless fruit. God can do much with the little we have to offer. (2) You reap later than you sow. It takes a long time for some seeds to grow and produce fruit. Don’t get discouraged when you don’t see immediate results (praying, witnessing, etc.). Even if you don’t see any harvest on earth, there is the promise that we will be rewarded by Christ.

  3. Doing good requires persistence. "If we do not give up" (v. 9c).

  4. Doing good has a limited season. "Therefore, as we have opportunity" (v. 10a). Paul is not saying, “Do good when it's convenient.” He's saying, “You only have a limited amount of time to do good.” (If you want to have a harvest of carrots, you have to plant the seeds before it's too late.)

  5. Doing good calls for an endless field. "Let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers" (v. 10b). Paul says "especially," not "exclusively." Doing good starts in the church, but shouldn't stay in the church.
John Wesley said, “Do all the good you can, in all the ways you can, to all the people you can, as long as you ever can.”

[Show apple.] This apple is here today because a seed was planted. You are probably here today because some people planted seeds in your life.

This apple contains several seeds. Each seed could grow into a tree and produce countless fruit. Imagine the potential fruit that could be produced if you live a life of doing good!
  • Remember you only have a limited amount of time.
  • But don’t limit the good you do to only a few people.
  • Don’t grow weary.
  • You will be rewarded for doing good.
  • So keep at it. Don’t give up.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Practical Spirituality

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Part 14 of a series through Galatians

Text: Galatians 6:1-6

This week I read about a man named Simeon Stylites (c. 390-459). For 37 years he lived on a small platform on top of a pillar in Syria as a way to show devotion to God. Is this what it means to be "spiritual"?

What is spirituality? It is saying "yes" to the Spirit. What does the Spirit want us to do? Love. Spirituality is not just about our personal relationship with Christ; it's also about our relationships with one another. Spirituality is mostly practical, not mystical.

When I was a kid, my favorite kind of hockey cards were "In Action" cards. The Spirit wants to see Christians "in action."

How should we live if we want to "keep in step with the Spirit" (5:25)?

Five habits of spiritual people:
  1. Spiritual people restore one another. "Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted" (v. 1). Paul has just talked about "the works of the flesh" (5:19-21). We desire to "walk in the Spirit," but too often we stumble into sin. Notice that Paul addresses the Galatians as "brothers." He is talking about sin inside the church. We are accountable to one another. The church is God's family. We are to restore our brothers and sisters when they become 'caught in a sin." (I don't think "caught" means that we are to spy on others and say, "Aha, I caught you!" I prefer "overtaken," KJV.) We should not ignore sin, gossip about sin, or revel in another person’s sin. The Greek word for "restore" (katartizo) means "to mend, to repair." In Mark 1:19, it is used to describe the mending of fishing nets. In secular Greek, it is used to describe the setting of a broken bone. (A doctor needs to be honest about the patient's condition.) 'Am I my brother’s keeper?' (Genesis 4:9). Yes! Who should restore a fellow Christian? One who is "spiritual." A person who is spiritual is a person who loves. "The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love" (5:6). "Serve one another in love" (5:13). "The fruit of the Spirit is love" (5:22). "Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins" (1 Peter 4:10). "Speaking the truth in love" (Ephesians 4:15). Restoration should remain private, if possible. (Jesus outlines the steps to be taken when a brother sins in Matthew 18:15-17. The first step is to talk to the person privately.) If church discipline is necessary, it should always be done in love. "The Lord disciplines those he loves" (Hebrews 12:5). How should restoration be handled? (1) It should be handled gently. Being harsh or judgmental is a sign of spiritual immaturity. (2) It should be handled carefully. "Watch yourself, or you also may be tempted." It should be handled humbly. "If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall" (1 Corinthians 10:12. "We all stumble in many ways" (James 3:2).

  2. We should help one another. "Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ" (v. 2). "Burdens" (v. 2) are heavy burdens, too heavy for one person to carry. They are temptations that oppress us and trials that depress us. A "load" is a lighter burden (like a backpack). "Loads" are life’s responsibilities. Christians can go to one of two extremes: (1) some people treat nothing like a burden; (2) some people treat everything like a burden. To help someone with his/her burden is to "fulfill the law of Christ." What is the law of Christ? "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another" (John 13:34). "The entire law is summed up in a single command: 'Love your neighbor as yourself'" (5:14). Spirituality is not about obligation; it’s about transformation.

  3. We should value one another. "If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself" (v. 3). "Do not think of yourself more highly that you ought" (Romans 12:3). A self-centered person is not a self-giving person. No Christian is too important to restore and help struggling believers.

  4. We should not compete with one another. "Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, for each one should carry his own load" (vv. 4-5). "If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other" (5:15). "Let us not become conceited, provoking [competing] and envying each other" (5:26).

  5. We should share with one another. "Anyone who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with his instructor" (v. 6). "The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, 'Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain,' and 'The worker deserves his wages'" (1 Timothy 5:17-18). A pastor must fight against two common temptations: laziness and greed ("fleecing" the flock). A pastor must not abuse his privilege. A church must not abuse its pastor. (He is more than an employee of the church).
Galatians 6:1-6 shows us the need for both personal responsibility and mutual accountability.

Monday, May 3, 2010

True Spirituality

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Part 13 of a series through Galatians

Text: Galatians 5:16-26

Many people think spirituality is conforming to a list of rules. Others say, "I'm not religious. I'm spiritual."

In this passage, we find the following phrases: "live by the Spirit" (vv. 16, 25), "led by the Spirit" (v. 18), "keep in step with the Spirit" (v. 25). These phrases might seem a bit vague to us.

What does it mean to be "spiritual"? Spirituality is the result of saying "yes" to the desires of the Spirit. Saying "yes" to the Spirit needs to become a daily routine ("walk in the Spirit").

Four facts about true spirituality:
  1. Spirituality is produced by the Spirit. "So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature" (v. 16). Because we have the Spirit living within us, we have the desire to "live by the Spirit."

  2. Spirituality is opposed by our flesh. "For the sinful nature [flesh] desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want" (v. 17). There is a battle raging within us between the flesh ("sinful nature") and the Spirit. (It’s not like on the cartoons: an angel and a demon on each shoulder.) To say "yes" to the desires of the Spirit and "no" to the desires of the flesh is a constant struggle (cf. Romans 7:15, 18-19). Why? Because doing the "works of the flesh” (vv. 19-21) is doing what comes naturally. Paul writes, "I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God." (Does this mean that when we sin we should doubt our salvation?) "Live" is in the present tense, meaning that the sin is habitual. (But don’t many Christians struggle with "besetting" sins?) When you sin, does it bother you? Or do you say, "It’s my life. I’ll do what I want"? If you are concerned about your sin, this shows that the Spirit is at work in your heart. Paul says, "Those who belong to Christ have crucified the sinful nature" (v. 24). Crucifixion was a gradual way to die. Our flesh is not completely dead yet. But don’t give it CPR!

  3. Spirituality is measured by our character. "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control" (vv. 22-23). Someone has said, "Character is who you are when no one is looking." The "fruit of the Spirit" (unlike the "works of the flesh") do not come naturally. The first fruit mentioned is "love." Love is the supreme virtue of the Christian life (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:1-5). God is not pleased with actions that are devoid of love (e.g., Pharisees). "The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love" (Galatians 5:6).

  4. Spirituality is tested by our relationships. "Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other" (vv. 25-26). Don't think that a sin like "discord" is less serious than "drunkenness."