Freedom in Love: People and all their opinions

People are difficult.

They have a lot of opinions.

Frankly, I am difficult. I have a lot of opinions.

I like dark roast coffee, thick and rich. I like it so dark and thick that a guy in our first congregation told me that my coffee had hair on it.

I think conversation is more important than time. I’ll choose talking over getting a move on every time and it drives people batty.

I don’t like words like conservative or liberal, traditional or contemporary, confessional or progressive. What do they mean? Very different things to different people, and so I find them troublesome and confusing, and they unintentionally create unnecessary assumptions.

See, I have a lot of opinions.

Paul feels like a brother to me, because he is a man of opinions too. And he’s not afraid to share them. He began Galatians 5:2 yesterday with “I, Paul…”

I like that he doesn’t hide behind another source, but is willing to take the heat for his thoughts, even when he is proclaiming the Gospel. “I’m saying this…not someone else, not the elders, not Peter, but I, Paul.” This is wise and we can learn from Paul in this. Why?

Because opinions were made for relationships, and more than that, relationships were made for love.

In our section from Galatians today you can hear and almost feel the affection of Paul jumping off the page. Don’t get me wrong. He’s pretty hot tempered. He’s pretty opinionated. He’s got some stuff to share, some Truth to dispense. But he begins with love, ends with love, and there’s a whole lot of it in between. Please read Galatians 5:6-15. Note anything that sounds like love to you, whether a word, desire, or tone:

For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.

You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion is not from him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. 10 I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view, and the one who is troubling you will bear the penalty, whoever he is. 11 But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed. 12 I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!

13 For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.

These are some of my favorite words from Paul, mostly because of the great vulnerability you find in his heart for the people.

“None of it counts, but Jesus…but faith in Love!”

“You were doing so well…what the heck happened?”

“I have confidence that you’ll see Truth here, because I know you all. I know your heart for Christ.”

It’s a segment that lends itself to paraphrase because you have been there. You have sat with someone who you want to convince so deeply of Christ and His great love, of His Truth working in love, that your heart is breaking. It’s easy to sit with Paul as he writes to the Galatians and understand his zeal, but don’t miss his love and enduring affection. It’s the suck-your-breath-in emotion, of longing for something better for someone, of not only sharing an opinion, yes, but hurting because they hurt, so much so that you can feel it in your chest.

This is the best place to be to share an opinion. Should we share the Word with people every day and every way? Yes! But the rubber hits the road and we can be heard in relationship with someone that began at one point, shared a lot of love in the middle, and is open to the Truth because of all the love passing back and forth.

The Greek root word for emasculate in Galatians 5:12 is apokoptó, meaning to smite, cut off, mutilate, or emasculate. Translators choose emasculate here because Paul is a wordsmith of great cleverness. This feels tongue in cheek to me, and so while you may not have noticed or set it aside as a point of affection earlier, hear it now. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Paul is joking, because he’s so fired up, but certainly we can classify it as tongue-in-cheek. Paul is proclaiming that the Judaizers, the false brothers that trouble the Galatians so, would do to themselves the very thing and more that they so strongly insist from the Galatians, whom Paul loves.

It reminds me of my mom, when I would share my high school woes. “They should just go catch a duck!” she would say, or something else odd like that. Bottom line, I understood the point – they are trying to catch something, or someone rather, and you don’t need to be it. It was kitchy and thoughtful and always made me laugh, which was half the point.

Paul’s message is similar- don’t let them catch you. They don’t value you. God values you and He gave you freedom.

Love looks like freedom.

I don’t say that lightly. You can’t run around and proclaim freedom on the street corner (well, you can, but it just may not be very effective) because there is not relationship. Proclaiming love and freedom outside of relationship says, “Do whatever you want! Be whatever you want! No worries! Sin away!”

Love in relationship says, “Ack. This is unsettling you. Do you see how it’s hurting you? I want more for you.” (Galatians 5:12)

That is an opinion that can be heard. That speaks with purpose. That showers love.

As Paul tells the Galatians, we remind ourselves, “Use your freedom wisely.” (Galatians 5:13) Aka love, love, and love some more, always in Christ.

Sometimes, church bodies like to bite and devour one another, mine included. Opinions, because they are connected to the Word of God, and they value the Word of God, get louder and more aggressive all the time.

Your church body may seem similar. It’s been going on since Paul was a pastor. There’s nothing new under the sun.

Paul’s wisdom still holds true:

May love consume our zeal.

May it come at the beginning, at the end, and be found flowing like mad in the middle. May all our opinions be spoken and grounded in a love that carried a cross, walked out of a tomb, and ascended so the Spirit could move in us, bring freedom to us continually, every day.

Brothers and sisters, drink dark roast coffee or light roast, be on time or five minutes late, share the Word in season and out of season in its most unadulterated form, but do so in love, always, always in His love.


Discussion questions:

What strong opinions do you have on silly or big things?

What difference do you see in the way we share our opinions online or in other public ways versus sharing in relationship and conversation? What good do you see in either? What difficulty?

How does love change zeal? Where have you seen this done well?

Refusing the Old Standard

Some things are so familiar that they feel like a warm, cozy blanket on a long winter’s night, no matter what it is…

the house you grew up in

a favorite song or hymn

a person’s laugh

a favorite book or decoration

They are usually attached to a web of memories and people for us that lies below our consciousness. Things are comforting for a reason, not just because of their shape or size, but also because of their connections.

The connections build and strengthen over time in our brains as real pathways of memory. It’s a beautiful gift from God, the neurology woven into us to receive meaningful comfort, but it can also be a stronghold against our freedom. Just like anything else created by God for our joy, Satan can use it for his ridiculousness.

Paul calls out the stronghold of holding too tightly to that which comforts in Galatians 4:21-27:

 Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law?22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. 23 But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise. 24 Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. 25 Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. 26 But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. 27 For it is written,

“Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear;
    break forth and cry aloud, you who are not in labor!
For the children of the desolate one will be more
    than those of the one who has a husband.”

Um…you say, “That doesn’t sound like a bit of comfort, Heidi.”

Let me explain –

Paul points out several things that the practicing Jews and the Jewish converts to Christianity would have found comforting –

Abraham

flesh

promises

Sinai

Jerusalem

Abraham was who the Jewish believers followed their whole lives; for generations he signified this great comfort of God’s faithfulness. It would be like us seeing a cross or a picture of Jesus, to some extent, all the comfort flooding in without us even trying to find it.

The flesh seems weird and like a very small thing to us, when the Spirit is so much greater, but remember that God’s promise of a Savior, and their chosen-ness as people, was physically present for them in circumcision. Again, it’s not completely unlike baptismal banners and bread and wine for us. We value and appreciate the physical things God offers as concrete comfort in our eternal relationship with Him.

Promises – whether connected with circumcision, the prophets, the stars in the sky, the people of Israel very much survived on promises, waiting and hoping in what was to come, but also in the promises that God was faithful, never to leave them, unchanging… all that stuff that gives us comfort and hope in the Psalms and the rest of the Old Testament.

Sinai was more than the mountain of the Ten Commandments. It represented a place where God came to His people, met with Moses, and brought them out into freedom. Read Exodus 19:3:

And the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I am coming to you in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with you, and may also believe you forever.”

God came down “visibly” in this place and revealed His plan for the people. I don’t know many things more comforting than God revealing His plans, rather than leaving us to guess at them. Are churches comforting to you or maybe one church in particular? It’s because someone told you over and over that God is in that place, He meets you there.

Jerusalem continues, in a bigger, more eternal way, this concept of God permanently meeting with His people. It also signifies forgiveness and freedom from their sins, personally, and as a nation. The temple, the city, all connected to forgiveness and eternity, and God coming back for them. Those things matter and give us great comfort too, so we can understand the draw.

However, Paul needed the Galatians to understand that all of that was old. It was meant to point them to the New Thing that God was doing, that God had done in Jesus Christ. He uses an allegory about Sarah and Hagar to make a point-

all that old stuff is slavery if that’s what you follow.

It was meant to point you to true freedom – to the New, to our Savior.

Christ always holds the real comfort.

Where in life do we hold to an old standard? Where do tradition and ritual hold more for us than who they are pointing to? When do we make more of the items that comfort us than the Savior who gave them to us?

Paul tells the Galatians what they will find in the old standard – barrenness. The law and all the comfort that touches it is only a shadow; it cannot do the work of salvation, only Christ can.

Sometimes religion feels vacant and worthless because it’s about things and even people, rather than Salvation. God intended for the old to pass away and the new to come, while holding to solid Truth in His Word. It’s a difficult challenge, but it holds so much freedom over the barrenness of the old just for old’s sake.

Refuse the Old standard, the Old covenant – demand that every moment, every piece of comfort, every part of worship point you to the New covenant, the Beautiful Savior, doing a new thing in you each day.


Discussion questions:

Name two things that give you comfort – one that is traditionally comforting, and one that is maybe oddly shaped or not tangible at all? Why are these so comforting to you? (No judgement, we love comfort in many forms!)

What parts of the Old Covenant are hard for you to understand? In which of the five segments listed today can you relate to the Israelites, and understand where they find comfort there?

Where in life do we hold to an old standard? Where does tradition and ritual hold more for us than who they are pointing to? When do we make more of the items that comfort us than the Savior who gave them to us?

 

Freedom thru open ears: Tangible faith

One of my favorite Bible verses is Hebrews 11:1 –

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

The phrase “things not seen” is oddly comforting to me. We believe in something that isn’t right in front of our face. We believe in something too big to hold, too big to put in one place.

God commanded the stars into place and He holds up the Universe. Would we want to relegate God to what we can see or feel?

If we thought about it for a moment, I don’t think we would. Believing in what we can touch and feel is our default zone though. We are doubtful of things unseen, stories that don’t leave a trail of proof. It feels too much like rumors, distrustful, lacking evidence.

The Galatian believers had the same problem. They had fallen in love with the one true God, a God that not only offered righteousness, but worked justice through grace and mercy. Why were they suddenly so easily deceived by a message of law, of must’s?

Read Galatians 3:1-6 and I think you’ll find some answers about the Galatians, but also about our belief and unbelief conundrum as well:

O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith— just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”?

Works of the law, as Paul calls them – acts we can do, rituals we can perform, sacrifices we can touch – have a certain seduction, a bewitching:

It’s just easier.

And so often in life we just want something, anything to be easier.

While “do more,” “follow through,” “act this way,” sound harder, in reality they’re the default, the don’t-have-to-think-about-it choice. At our core, our sinful selves want an easier way that’s touchable, seeable, and absolutely tangible.

Paul gives a double-edged argument to the Galatians. He refutes the idea that God is in this tangible law of flesh while presenting the Gospel reality that God, while outside of what we can see, gave Himself as One who can be seen, who can be touched, who can be felt.

“It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ…”
“Did you receive the Sprit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?”

Christ came as man into this world, a touchable Savior.

Christ performed miracles in the lives of those in the New Testament, and in our own lives, works that we can see.

Christ suffered and died on the cross and was laid in a tomb, as part of a written-in-ink, held-in-someone’s-hands, historic record.

Christ left His living and active Word, so that we can hold it, eat its hope, and breathe in its sweet life-giving breath –

tangible.

We haven’t even touched on the water that brings the Spirit alive in our hearts, flowing over our heads, the bread and wine that sustain our souls, or the people that hug us on any given day as part of His living tangible Body.

God in His grace is unseen -too big for our eyes and ears and hearts.

Paul’s point to the Galatians is the same as ours, “Why would you want it any other way?”

God in His grace is seen – giving us eyes to see His glory and ears to hear His mercy, firsthand.

Let us throw off the default, let it drown in our Baptism each day.

Read Galatians 3:2-6 again below, and answer Paul’s questions for yourself:

Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? When, where, and what stories and passages in the Scripture have had an impact on your faith walk?

 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? When has your flesh proved useless in this life, unable to do what you needed it to do and you needed to absolutely rely on God’s strength?

Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? When have you suffered in this life? How did or has God worked His grace in the midst of the struggle?

Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith— just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”? What miracles, big or tiny, has God worked in your life? What passages of Scripture have you had the Spirit bring alive for you at a particular time?

God is at work, in the seen and the unseen. He’s not too big or too small for our restless, easily deceived hearts. He is so very faithful.

In our foolishness, He does some of His best work.

#lifetogether – Connect and send someone this week’s free downloadable Dear 52 card or order the whole set here

Discussion questions:

Choose one or more of the questions below to ponder on a journal page or as a group…

When, where, and what stories and passages in the Scripture have had an impact on your faith walk?

When has your flesh proved useless in this life, unable to do what you needed it to do and you needed to absolutely rely on God’s strength?

When have you suffered in this life? How did or has God worked His grace in the midst of the struggle?

What miracles, big or tiny, has God worked in your life? What passages of Scripture have you had the Spirit bring alive for you at a particular time?