Galatians 5:1, 13-18; 22-25
1For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
13For you were called to freedom, siblings; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. 14For the whole law is summed up in one, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." 15If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.
16Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. 18But because you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
22By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. 24And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.
In this green and growing Season of the Spirit, Time of the Church as we count Sundays after the Day of Pentecost, the church lives in the power and grace of the Holy Spirit of Pentecost.
The apostle Paul's letter or epistle to the Galatians is one of his seven undisputed or authentic epistles. All seven carry evidence of his grammar, syntax, sentence structure, vocabulary, and theology, though there's a clear progression from 1 Thessalonians to Romans.
The community at Galatia was the first ethnic church, in the sense of geography and culture; they also were ethnos as gentiles! The words Galatia, Gaulle, Gaelic, Celt, Celtic all come from the same root.
• Galatians is the Epistle of Freedom.
• Galatians is Reformation Central, vitally important to Martin Luther's theology.
• This passage brings us a typical Reformation contrast and dichotomy between law and gospel.
• Paul's only birth narrative: "In the fullness of time God sent his son, born of a woman, born under the law." Galatians 4:4
• Neither Jew nor Gentile, male nor female, slave nor free, for all are one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:28 – last week! The ground is level at the foot of the cross. But this doesn't obliterate distinctions and wonders of each person's individual gifts and contributions.
• A pair of famous Pauline lists—works of the flesh and fruits of the Spirit.
God gifted Israel the commandments or ten words – decalogue – after they'd been freed from slavery in Egypt, yet still were on their way to the place where they'd settle to live together and amongst people who had other gods and other agendas. The commandments outline the limits and boundaries of our freedoms. We humans often need incentives and reminders; as we've realized during Covid, my mask and my vaccination protects me and protects you, and I hope you'll be thoughtful, considerate – and loving – enough to reciprocate. Jesus summed up and condensed ten commands into just two: love God; love your neighbor as you love yourself.
In Galatians, Paul reminds us "Christ has set us free" [from slavery to sin and self] and in an echo of the Ten Words of the Sinai Covenant, continues to describe how we now are free to love our neighbors, who in turn are free to love us. In Paul's words, "Through [God's agape] love become slaves to one another!" The New Testament variously uses Greek words that translate into servant or slave in English; here it's doulos or slave rather than diakonos or servant (the source of our word and ministry of deacon). Bond service and chattel slavery were common in the Ancient Near East, which likely is the reason Paul draws this parallel. However, maybe especially a week after Juneteenth's celebration of emancipation, we need to realize this servitude or enslavement is our wiling response to God's gracious love and not coerced. Jesus outlines two commandments; note how Paul mentions only one—love neighbor as self.
Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control all are fruits of God's Spirit of Holiness and Life. You know how fruit grows on a branch or vine or tree that's rooted in the ground? The entire organism receives nutrients from the earth, water, sunlight, and restful night. Every kind of fruit starts small, gradually gets bigger and riper, finally is ready to pick and enjoy. Can that be a model for qualities and characteristics the Holy Spirit slowly grows in us so we can gift others?