Freedom in Christ to Serve One Another in Love

John Scott

July 1, 2007

1. The slavery of legalism

This week we will continue with Paul’s Letter to the Galatians. Please turn to it in your leaflet or your Bibles. Last week Fr. Hand discussed the laws that God gave us in scripture to make our sin visible to us. Today we turn our attention to laws of man and the slavery of legalism. Jesus freed us from the slavery of legalism, but this freedom requires discipline, it requires we become disciples.

In the Letter to the Galatians, Paul is so direct and passionate he borders on anger. Why does he have such strong feelings? The Galatians are apparently trying to please God.

The answer is that the Galatians are caught up in legalism. They go so far as to require circumcision to join the church. Trusting, or said another way, placing your faith, in laws or rules rather than Jesus is legalism.

2. Mustard

When legalism is mentioned I think about Germany. Due to business and the military, I have traveled to Germany many times. Once I spent a weekend in Hamburg in the north of Germany, a town with few tourists from the US. On Saturday I took the train from the hotel to the downtown area. Many people were eating hotdogs and sauerkraut around the lake, so I bought a plate of hotdogs and sauerkraut for lunch.

When I start putting mustard on the bun with my plastic fork, an older lady ran over to my table and started yelling at me in German. I could not make out a word she said and eventually she left and came back with the manager. The manager of the restaurant explained in perfect English that there was a rule that small wooden sticks were to be used to spread mustard and that the fork was for eating the sauerkraut! The plastic fork was not to be used for mustard because it was not a renewable resource like the wooden spoon. The manager carefully explained how important it is to protect the environment from waste by following the rules. I ate quickly and continued my downtown tour.

3. The alleyway

Not far from the restaurant, the sidewalk was crossed by a one lane street narrower than a driveway, something very common in Europe. Many of you have cars that would not fit in these alleyways. I have a habit of looking down these alleys to make sure that no cars are coming and then continuing to walk down the sidewalk. This is the way it is done in all the countries in Europe except Germany.

You guessed it. As I crossed the alleyway on the sidewalk another older lady ran out and grabbed me by the arm and dragged me back to the edge of the alleyway. She shouted at me in German and pointed out a waste high walk / don’t walk light across the little alley way. When she left, I nearly ran, afraid that she would come back with a policeman. I hurried back to the hotel and did not leave the hotel again until it was time to go to work.

I could go on and on about rules in Germany. Germans delight in making and following rules. In their culture, obeying rules makes you a good citizen. Does following man made rules make us better people? Does following man made rules please God?

4. 613 Scribal Laws

The Scribes of Jesus’ day developed a quite similar attitude toward laws. The scribes discovered 613 laws in the first five books of the Old Testament. To ensure that they followed these 613 laws, the scribes developed additional elaborate rules which became known as scribal law. When scribal law was written down it amounted to thousands of pages.

Let me read a description of the approach of the scribes to one of the 613 laws.

"The Law lays it down that the Sabbath Day is to be kept holy, and that on it no work is to be done. That is a great principle. But these Jewish legalists had a passion for definition. So they asked: What is work? All kinds of things were classified as work. For instance, to carry a burden on the Sabbath Day is to work. But next a burden has to be defined. So the Scribal Law lays it down that a burden is ‘food equal in weight to a dried fig, enough wine for mixing in a goblet, milk enough for one swallow, honey enough to put upon a wound, oil enough to anoint a small member, water enough to moisten an eye-salve, paper enough to write a customs house notice upon, ink enough to write two letters of the alphabet, reed enough to make a pen’—and so on endlessly. So they spent endless hours arguing whether a man could or could not lift a lamp from one place to another on the Sabbath, whether a tailor committed a sin if he went out with a needle in his robe, whether a woman might wear a brooch or false hair, even if a man might go out on the Sabbath with artificial teeth or an artificial limb, if a man might lift his child on the Sabbath Day. These things to them were the essence of religion. Their religion was a legalism of petty rules and regulations." (William Barclay)

5. Legalism in the Church

Today, some church leaders encourage petty legalism by shifting attention from scripture to church laws, often called cannon law, rubrics in the prayer book, decrees of councils, and resolutions of conventions.

Even pettier legalism is contained in the customs of the church. The style of music, the type of musical instruments, the length of sermons, the color of the door, the color of the carpet, the time of the service, budgets, and architecture are examples of unwritten rules that feed legalism.

Believing that following man made rules is a path to salvation is legalism. This is a very real problem. Let me give you an example.

6. Wedding toast

At each of my daughters’ weddings I gave a short speech as is the custom. Thinking that I should not miss an opportunity to proclaim the Good News, I borrowed heavily from 1 Corinthians 13, Paul’s description of love. Some might say I plagiarized it. Whatever I did was effective in causing people to come to me and ask faith questions. Sadly, I heard from more than one person that they had never been to church, but that they were OK because they never drank any alcohol. You see, they thought that they were Christians because they followed a petty rule of a particular denomination. While abstinence from alcohol is a good thing, it is not a substitute for knowing Jesus.

What is wrong with following rules if it makes us feel better about ourselves, or if it makes us forget about our problems, or if it impresses others. Jesus answers these questions for us when he addressed the legalistic Pharisees.

7. Jesus and the Pharisees

As Jesus put it, the Pharisee strained out gnats and swallowed camels [Matthew 23:24]. "Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy" [Luke 12:1]. The Pharisees believed that acting holy by following the laws would lead them to God, it did not. Holiness does not lead us to Jesus, Jesus leads us to Holiness.


8. Freedom….Galatians 5:1

We are free from the burden of legalism. Paul makes that clear when he writes to the Galatians in chapter 5 verse 1: "For freedom Christ has set you free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery." Jesus freed us from slavery to legalism, but not to do as we please. Our actions have consequences for us, for those we love, and for our community. One characteristic of an authentic Christian is constant concern for their impact on others.

9. Galatians 5:13

In verse 13, Paul writes, "You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love"

10. Discipline – Piano Example

True freedom requires discipline, we must become disciples. Let me demonstrate. The keyboard is free, there is no rule that keeps me from playing anything I want. (Piano demonstration) What is missing? No lessons! I never learned the disciplines necessary to play the piano.

11. Galatians Chapter 5: 19 & 20

This is the point that Paul is making in the Chapter 5 verses 19 and 20. First, he provides a list of sinful things that disciples must avoid. Consider the total self centeredness, the total lack of concern for others, and the devastating impact on the Christian community of these sinful things.

Many of us can make the case that we do not have a problem with some of the acts of a sinful nature that Paul lists. Several of the sinful acts listed here are a constant problem for me. They seem to be a problem for many.

12:Enmity, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissention, the dislike of others who hold different views, and envy

These sins are especially damaging to the church. I think that many churches, including this church, are hurt by enmity, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissention, the dislike of others who hold different views, and envy. I am a witness that these problems exist here today and that we avoid these sins acts.

13: Enmity

Is hatred a problem in the church? Enmity is a better translation of the Greek word. Enmity means perpetual hostility to others. Enmity describes the person that is always hard to get along with, the person that always finds fault, the person that everyone tries to please, avoid, or pacify. Enmity violates the command Jesus gave us to love one another as he loved us.

14: Discord?

Is there a problem with discord? The word used here literally means rivalry for prizes. This describes those who will do anything to get their own way. This is the "my way or the highway" approach. If I had a dollar for every time someone told me that they will leave the church if we do this thing or leave the church if we do not do some other thing, I could retire today. We are not to seek what we want in the church. We are to seek together what God wants.

15: Fits of rage

Have you ever seen fits of rage among those who consider themselves Christians? Becoming angry due to a great wrong doing is not the issue here. Jesus was angry when the merchants turned the temple court into a market place. Uncontrolled bursts of anger are a problem. Often anger is triggered by discussions of different points of view. If we do not have the patience to listen to other points of view without becoming angry we may miss God speaking to us. God speaks to his people through his people.

16: Selfish Ambition

Then there is the problem of Selfish Ambition. The word used here meant a person who seeks office not to serve others, but for personal gain. Many people seek leadership positions in the local church and larger church organizations. Yet the church universal suffers from a lack of effective leadership. The reason is that many seek these positions for prestige rather than service.

17: Dissention – Flying apart

Dissention describes a group who’s characteristic is not coming together on issues, but flying apart. It is the exact opposite of a band of brothers. We are called to be brothers and sisters in Christ.

18: Factions

Factions, the perennial problem in churches! Many un-churched have cited factions as the reason they avoid churches. The Greek word used here meant disliking others because they hold different views. As an example, it is not OK for a Methodist to dislike someone because they are a Baptist. Again, this is a violation of the commandment Jesus gave us to love one another has he loved us.

19: Envy – the last one

And last, let us consider Envy. You might think that we already covered this concept when we talked about Jealousy. The Greek word used is something far meaner than Jealousy. It describes the spirit which grudges the fact that someone else has something. The literal Greek meant grief at your neighbor’s good fortune. This often surfaces in the church when someone opposes a decision just because they do not want the people who voted for it to win. How can we love others if we have grief at their good fortune?

20. Galatians Chapter 5 Verse 21 & Ephesians 5:5

In verse 21 Paul warns us that people who live like this will not inherit the Kingdom of God. Why? Paul explains in Ephesians 5:5 For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person--such a man is an idolater--has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.

The problem with these sinful things is their complete self-centeredness. As Paul explains in Ephesians 5:5, the person is making an idol of themselves. They are breaking the first commandment.

21. Galatians Chapter 5 verse 24

In verse 24, Paul writes; Those who belong to Christ have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires, they worship God, not themselves.

22. Love Joy Pease

This is good news! We are freed from slavery to legalism. We are free to follow the Spirit. The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control. Against such things there is no law.

Let us Pray,

Lord Jesus, we give you thanks today that you find no merit in man made rules, that you have set us free to enjoy the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control of fellow Christians.