What would you do if you wanted those of us who belong to this church to serve one another? Because that is our theme for tonight in our series on Making the Church Real. Serve one another.
You may be leading a home group, or CYFA group or Focus Bible study group or the Christian Union at your school or university. Whatever group it is: how would you change them so they served one another?
In your head, take a blank sheet of paper and write "Action Plan for JPC (or whatever group you're thinking of) to become a people who serve one another". Now take a minute or two to fill in that sheet in your mind....
I am not sure what things you wrote down. Maybe it included something like this:-
1. Preach a powerful sermon telling people that they must serve one another.
2. Set an example in your own life in the way you serve and hope that others copy you.
3. Run a special "serving focus" in the church where you ask everyone to sign up for one of the many rotas or groups.
4. Maybe you're a teacher and you are tempted to create a special award system so that those who serve in the church get pews that are more comfortable and eventually a pew where you can see the front of church!
Well tonight, we are looking at the passage that we heard read to us from Galatians a little earlier and it would be great to see how that helps us answer this question. Turn with me to page 1168 so we can make a start on that.
As we do that let me pray for us. "Father God as we look at this part of the Bible together now, we come longing to hear from you and ask now for your help in understanding it. We ask that through it you will speak to each one of us and that you will remind us of all that Christ has done for us on the cross. Please change us to be a church that serves one another more and more each day. Amen."
Starting with chapter 1. Have a look at verses 1 and 2: -
Paul, an apostle--sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead-- and all the brothers with me, To the churches in Galatia …
Paul, who is an apostle, wrote this letter to the churches in Galatia. Where was Galatia? Galatia is in what we would now call Turkey.
How does Paul know them? A few years earlier, Paul left his church, sent by God, on a journey to tell others about Jesus and to set up some new churches, including this group of churches. He had seen their lives changed as they put their faith in Jesus. He has since then kept in touch with them and has obviously heard some bad news. Have a look at verses 6-8 of chapter 1: -
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel-- which is really no gospel at all. Evidently, some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.
Paul is deeply worried! Word has reached him that there is a group in these churches who are undermining the gospel that these believers had been taught. By their teaching they are throwing these Galatians Christians into confusion and, even worse than that, the Galatians were turning away from Jesus.
What was this teaching that was so destructive? The teaching was about the place of the Old Testament law. It was being taught that it was the law that first changes you and BRINGS you into a relationship with God and it is the law that KEEPS you in a relationship with God.
Look over to page 1169 and chapter 3 v1.
You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?
In this passage Paul is talking about the law of the Old Testament - the first 5 books of the Bible. These people were saying, "God will not accept you unless you obey these laws." A particular favourite law for them was circumcision. So, they said "Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved."
Furthermore, they taught that what a person most needed in their relationship with God was the law. They taught that the laws specified what you needed to do and motivated you to do it.
And Paul violently disagrees! He insists that they were NOT changed by obeying the law and he argues that the law can never change anyone.
Paul says that it is Jesus who changes you. Jesus who was sent by God to die on a cross instead of us. Jesus, by crucifixion, took the punishment we deserved. And Paul reminds the Galatians that they had come to see at the cross how much God hated their sin and how much he hated all they had done. But they had also seen how much he loved them. They had seen how he had offered them forgiveness for those sins and, says Paul, they had believed what they heard.
They had come to Jesus in order to have their sins forgiven. And Jesus had accepted them and forgiven them. They received the Holy Spirit and had begun a new relationship with God. They had been changed as Jesus' Spirit came to live in them.
They had not been changed by the law.
That brings us to tonight's passage, so flip over 2 pages to 1172 and look with me at chapter 5 and verses 13-16:-
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. The entire law is summed up in a single command: "love your neighbour as yourself". If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. So I say, live by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.
Paul is telling them that Christ has set us free not to do wrong but to serve one another as we live by the Spirit. And broken down, those are my points:-
First, Christ has set us free…, secondly …not to do wrong …, and thirdly … but to serve one another as we live by the Spirit
So first, Christ has set us free...
Verse 13 again,
"you my brothers, were called to be free…"
What freedom is Paul talking about here?
Paul is talking about freedom from the need to earn salvation. It is freedom from the impossible situation where we have to obey the law so that God can accept us. The Bible describes it like this: that it was while we were still sinners that God died for us and that when we believe in Jesus Christ and turn to him he accepts us. His acceptance never depends on our keeping the law.
And that is an amazing freedom. The Galatians had become confused about the whole point of the gospel. They had missed the fact that God's love is totally and utterly unconditional. The laws were from God, yes. And the laws do show us what God loves and what he dislikes. But - and this is crucial to understand - no one has every been saved by keeping them because not only do they do not change us they do not have the power to change us.
So when the law says "love your neighbour as yourself". Does that give you the desire to do it? Does it give you the power to do it? Does that change you? No says Paul. Only Jesus can do that.
And that is the freedom that Paul is talking about. We do not have to try to earn God's acceptance by being good enough.
However, those who wanted the Galatians to put their trust in the law were anxious! They were anxious because they thought people would do whatever they wanted if they believed that salvation was free.
For example, they were saying "What you teach Paul, has no power to change people. What people need is the LAW. Such freedom does not teach people how wrong sin is. Such freedom will only result in people doing whatever they like. They will do whatever they wish, go wherever they want and your teaching will result in sin.
However, Paul maintained that Christ has set us free. And, he has set us free (secondly)….
...not to do wrong...
Look at verse 13 again,
But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature
Paul is reminding the Galatians that with this amazing freedom that come from being loved as we are, no strings attached, there is a temptation. The temptation to abuse our freedom by giving in to the sinful desires that we have.
Paul is not a fool. He knows that in believers there are sinful desires. These were there before we turned to Jesus Christ and they are still there afterwards. That is normal and until we reach heaven that will be the case.
But Paul says do not use your freedom as an excuse to live a life of sin. He gives us examples of these sinful desires. Look down to verse 19:-
The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissentions, factions and envy, drunkenness, orgies and the like.
But he goes on to say:
I warn you, as I did before that those who will live like this will not inherit the Kingdom of God.
How does that fit with what Paul has been saying. Isn't he saying that we are free from the law so even if we do these things God loves us unconditionally? How can he now say if you do this that you will not inherit the kingdom of God?
Paul is saying: you cannot be saved or changed by the law. You can only be saved by a relationship with Jesus and you can only be changed by a relationship with Jesus.
BUT, as a relationship with Jesus does change us and change the direction of our lives, if we are completely unchanged it shows we do not have a relationship with Jesus and we are not trying to live lives that please him.
And Paul warns us that a life that makes a habit of living in such a way is not a life that show evidence of the spirit's work.
Paul says to those who think that the law can save us or change us after we are Christians - "ONLY those who have a relationship with Jesus are actually changed."
And Christ's intention in saving us is not for us to do wrong... but (thirdly)
...to serve one another as we live by the Spirit
Verse 13 one last time:
…rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: 'love your neighbour as yourself'. If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other so I say live by the Spirit…
When we come to faith in Jesus - we develop a new desire to please God and to refrain from sinning. The Holy Spirit lives in us and changes our desires so that we want to please Jesus.
And that results in v22:
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.
The law neither changes our desires nor gives us the fruit of the Spirit - it is the Spirit who changes us.
Since we live by the Spirit let us keep in step with the Spirit. (v25)
And so keeping in step with the spirit means going along with the desires he giving us. The desire to please Jesus and the desire not to sin. And Paul is saying go along with him. Allow yourself to be led by the Spirit rather than your sinful desires.
As we learn more about Jesus from the Bible, it is the Spirit who deepens our relationship with him and who make us want to please him. The Spirit reveals the needs of others and prompts us to meet those needs by serving and loving them. And Paul says keep in step with the Spirit. In other words, do these things that you now desire rather than the sinful desires.
So if Paul says the law cannot change us why does he quote from it? Why does he then say in verse 13 that "The entire law is summed up in a single command: 'love your neighbour as yourself'? It is because the law, while it cannot save or change us, CAN show us how to please God. It shows us what God loves.
When I started going out with my fiancée Suzy, I bought her things to say how much I liked her. As our relationship has gone on, what I give her has changed. Why? Because I now realise what she likes. So it is roses and lilies rather than books!
And it is the same with the law. The Spirit has put in our hearts a desire to please him. The law shows us what pleases him and so not only do we desire to do it, but we know how to.
And Paul is saying that God's desire is not that we live sinful lives but that we serve one another. And rather than do it because the law commands it, we do it because we see that it brings pleasure to God. He wants us to love and serve one another. He wants us to love our others as we love ourselves.
So Paul is saying to the Galatians and to us:
1. Christ has set us free
2. not to do wrong
3. but to serve one another as we live by the Spirit.
And returning to the question I asked at the beginning - how does a church become a people who serve one another?
From what we have seen tonight, Paul would encourage us to do this: START AT THE CROSS. The only thing that will change us to do anything for him is to look again at what he has done for us. The only way we will desire to serve one another is to remember all he has done for us. The only way we will be able to serve one another is to look at the cross.
And that is what I would like us to do now. It is so appropriate that tonight we remember Jesus' death on the cross as we eat bread and drink wine as he told us to. But now; listen to this song and watch the screens and, as you do, remember how much Jesus loves you. Remember that if you trust in him he has forgiven all your sins and has set you free. Remember what your sin did to him and ask him to replace your sinful desires with a desire for him.
We are now going to sing an amazing song. It helps us do two things. First, we remind one another of the truths that Paul has been teaching us tonight. Second, it is a prayer. Look at verse 3:
Spirit of God, come, fill,
Emancipate us all!
Break our desire to sin, until
Before his throne we fall.