Read Galatians 5:13-21
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“He has enabled us to be ministers of His new covenant. This is a covenant not of written laws, but of the Spirit. The old written covenant ends in death; but under the new covenant, the Spirit gives life.” (2 Corinthians 3:6 NLT)
In his letter to the church in Galatia, the Apostle Paul is writing to a community that is divided over the issue of male circumcision: should new Gentile followers of Jesus be counted as a part of the Jewish covenant without being circumcised, or should they have to be circumcised just as all of the Jews are circumcised. Being that Christianity at the time wasn’t a religion, but a sect of Judaism, this was a VITALLY IMPORTANT question. While Paul is opposed to making Gentiles be circumcised, he also is against divisive behavior regardless of which side it is coming from. In response to this division, Paul describes to the Galatian church what he calls, “the works of the flesh.”
WORKS OF THE FLESH: Other Sins Like These. One of the things that I think plagues the church is this notion that the Bible, the Church, and religion in general are nothing more than a set of dos and don’ts in order to strip fun away from people, as well as to hold them in subjugation to those who claim to have the authority to teach and enforce such rules and regulations. There can be no doubt that there is some truth to Karl Marx’s words, “Religion is the opiate of the masses.” The Church, and the leaders within the church have, in some cases, abused their authority and, as a result, have done a disservice to Christ, to the Christian community, and to the world. With that said, the same is true with any ideology, religious or not. Take a long hard look at Communism. Any ideology can be used as an opiate to the masses.
So, while there is some truth to Marx’s comment, it is far from THE TRUTH as a whole. Christianity is not merely a list of dos and dont’s. When we come to those places in the Bible that list what should be done and what shouldn’t be done, it would benefit us to at least research the historical context behind those dos and dont’s. What’s more, when have done that kind of deep probe of the Scriptures, we begin to see that those dos and don’ts are, more often than not, a social contract between God and the world, between God and God’s people, and between God’s people and their fellow human beings. We all live in a social contract today whether we practice religion or not. We have all agreed to live and abide by the rules of our local governments for the benefit of the whole community.
At the heart of the Bible is LOVE. It is our guide to learning how to LOVING God by loving others as God loves us. God wants nothing more than that. It isn’t about an egotistical God who, like a big bully in the sky, demands we follow arbitrary laws…just because. The Bible is our guidance to what a right relationship with our neighbors and, by virtue of that, what a right relationship with God looks like. Some of those laws in the Bible make sense for us today, some of them no longer make sense because we have come to understand otherwise, but the heart of the BIBLE…THE HEART OF THE LAW…remains the same: LOVE! That is a constant that will never change.
To conclude on the “Works of the Flesh”, it is important to realize that Paul is not trying to give us an exhaustive list but, rather, he is listing specific sins that are going on within his church. We can see this in his summing the list up with “other sins like these” (Galatians 5:21). It is also important that we do not view Paul’s words as a list of dos and don’t. Instead, it is better to view them as a moral compass to help guide us all into a better relationship with God, into a better relationship with our neighbors, and into a better relationship with ourselves. That is the ultimate goal, it is what God wishes for all of us. Now, let’s go onto Paul’s “Fruit of the Spirit.”
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“A flower cannot blossom without sunshine, and man cannot live without love.” – Max Müller
Lord, fill me with your love so that I may live freely into the spirit of the law. Amen.