We're so glad you decided to join us today!
This week, we are not meeting in person for Sunday School. Instead, we will be enjoying the children's Vacation Bible School Program.
Next week, we will be at the Washington County Fair for worship at 10 am. We will not be meeting for Sunday School.
When we meet in person, we share our joys and concerns with each other. If you have prayer requests to share, you can add them to the comments on this post. When you are ready, use this prayer to get started.
God, our Father, we often come to you with requests for things that we want in our personal life, for help in difficult times or for health and healing. But sometimes our desires are simply for worldly success, for comfort, for more things and more money.
This morning we ask that, through your Spirit, you would make us more like you — more loving, more caring, more patient, more compassionate, more joyful even in difficult times. Help us to bear fruit so that there will be more unity in the church and more Christlike love for all people. In Jesus’s name we pray. Amen.
This week's lesson is on Galatians 5:13-26.
Imagine, if you can, being a convert to the Christian faith in the first century. You have come from a world of pagan religion and sacrifices to appease the gods. You have responded to a message of love and forgiveness preached by a man named Paul and built on the life and teachings of Jesus.
But Christianity is not entirely new. It comes out of the Jewish faith to which Jesus firmly belonged.
Therefore, some Jewish Christians see the faith simply as a continuation of Judaism. They argue that to be a Christian one must obey all of the Jewish laws. Those who came to Christ from pagan backgrounds, they say, must be circumcised and obey the Jewish dietary laws. But even though Paul is a prominent Jewish leader himself, he argues that God has done something in Jesus that completely changes how people of faith can now relate to God.
The nature of the controversy indicates that the Galatian church included spiritual brothers and sisters from both Jewish and Gentile backgrounds. These disparate groups had been made into a family by God’s call. That call is the good news that in Jesus, God had come in the flesh, had submitted to death, and rose to new life.
Living in freedom (13-18)
In Jesus, Paul says, God set us free from the requirements of the law. Not only that, but God also set us free from living only for ourselves and our own desires and pleasures. That is not true freedom. That is merely license. Living that way may look like freedom, but ultimately it is just another path to slavery — slavery to sin.
Instead, God calls us to the kind of freedom that allows us to love others in truth and sincerity. It’s the kind of love that Jesus showed toward others. It is not contrary to the law because, as Paul says, “the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” Despite having different backgrounds, the love for God and the love for others is something that unites all Christians.
This, for Paul, is the foundation of the Christian faith. The alternative to this central commandment is to have churches where there is constant bickering and internal divisions. To avoid that, churches might divide into Jewish- and Gentile-based congregations, the lesson suggests. However, that would create divisions as well, and Christ’s church should not be divided. Instead, both groups can admit their different backgrounds while focusing on the love that unites them.
How can we live such a life? How can we live together with people who see the faith differently? How can we learn to love and serve others? Christians must turn away from their own selfishness and listen to the leading of the Holy Spirit. God provides that Spirit to each Christian, but we must still be willing to listen and obey. That requires a daily decision to set our self-interest aside and to ask how God’s Spirit is leading us to love other people.
The difference between the old way and this new way of life is what Paul describes as living by the flesh or living by the Spirit. Even for Christians, this is a continual struggle.
Rejecting selfishness (19-21)
At this point, Paul offers a list of sins that show just what a difference it makes to live by the flesh. Such unrestrained selfishness leads to sins like sexual immorality, idolatry and witchcraft, hatred, jealously, fits of rage and selfish ambition as well as divisions and envy and finally, drunkenness and orgies.
These sins range from personal failings to religious failings. They include failing to live lives that reflect self-sacrificing love and that create more divisions and hostility between people. These sins are common among people outside the church, but Christians who live without the Spirit’s guidance can succumb to them as well.
Falling into these practices is not freedom. As we mentioned before, this is license, and when unchecked it reveals that we are not citizens of God’s kingdom and that we have no inheritance in it.
Pursuing Godliness (22-26)
By contrast, Paul now offers a list of attitudes that are reflected in those who live by the Spirit’s guidance. Paul calls them “the fruit of the Spirit,” which is fitting because they are what grows in a Christian life that is cultivated with attention to the Spirit. They are the harvest of daily spiritual attention that allows us to consider others instead of just ourselves.
The first of these fruits, of course, is love, but along with it are joy and peace, patience, kindness and goodness toward others. In addition, those guided by the Spirit will be faithful and gentle and self-controlled.
Living this way does not come naturally. It requires dying to our old way of thinking and living and continually “crucifying” that old person that vies for control of our thoughts and our actions. This internal battle will never fully go away while we are living, but life in the Spirit will make us more like Christ as we grow in our faith.
Paul begins and ends his vice list with the commonly named pagan vices but devotes most of his attention in the middle to matters of hostility and disunity. He is driving home a point to Galatian church members that need to be heard through the ages: When we divide the body of Christ for self-serving reasons, we serve the flesh. We might tend to minimize such acts by pointing to the blatant evils of the ungodly world around us, but our selfish hostility is just as evil. We paganize ourselves when we refuse to love one another. Do you want a kingdom life, the life that God always intended for God’s people? Then let the Holy Spirit bear his fruit.
Thank you, God, for your incomparable blessing of freedom and life in the Spirit. We rely on the power of your Spirit so that we can be people who reject our Lord’s resurrection. Amen!
Questions for discussion
This week's benediction is from the Revised Standard Version.
Next week's lesson will be on Romans 14:10-23.
We are a small, rural Presbyterian church in southwestern Pennsylvania.