Sermon for the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, June 26, 2016
St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Text: Galatians 5:1, 13-25
Sermon Theme: “Love As the Definition of Freedom”
(Sources: Concordia Pulpit Resources, Vol. 26, Part 3, Series C; Emphasis Online Commentaries; Emphasis Online Examples; Online “Love Is” Quotes from Charlie Brown; Brokhoff, Series C, Preaching Workbook; Anderson’s Cycle C Preaching Workbook; original ideas; footnotes, Life Application Study Bible)
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
Our sermon text for today, from Paul’s Letter to the Galatians, is about freedom. There are many definitions of “freedom,” some of which we will hear next week at Fourth of July celebrations. A Christian’s definition of “freedom” is “love,” and Paul has much to say about that in our text.
Over the many years Charles M. Schulz’s drew his Peanuts’ strip, Charlie Brown and the Peanuts gang have had a lot to say about “love.” Here are just a few: “Love is getting someone a glass of water in the middle of the night.” “Love is making fudge together.” “Love is walking in the rain together.” “Love is sharing your popcorn.” “Love is hating to say goodbye.” “Love is not nagging.” “Love is walking hand in hand.”
Charlie Brown and his friends were getting close to defining love. A good definition of “love” is a definition of “freedom.”
In our text, Paul describes the freedom of the Christian in terms of love, a love defined by servant-hood. Freedom is not a license to do what one pleases; it is an opportunity to follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We are free “from” the law, so that we may be free “for” love.
This love serves our neighbor, just as we might wish to be served by the neighbor.
Martin Luther summarized this freedom of the Christian briefly and pointedly: “A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none; a Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.”
Love fulfills all the laws in the sense that love obeys the other commands. A person cannot kill, nor steal in the name of love. “Love your neighbor as yourself” is only one half of a command to love. Paul is assuming that Christians love God who in Christ justified them. Love of neighbor is possible only when God is truly loved.
The average person is overwhelmed with all the laws and rules of being a Christian. Daily he is faced with doing the Christian thing as he confronts specific situations. Through the indwelling Holy Spirit, the Christian seeks ways that the principle of love can be applied as he confronts every situation in life.
Christian freedom can NOT mean the freedom to sin as much as one wants, with no boundaries, because love is the main ingredient in that freedom. The most beautiful illustration of what I’m trying to get at was written by Pastor Paul E. Shoemaker, Pastor of Emanuel Lutheran Church, New Haven, Indiana. Let me share it with you:
“A big chain-link fence encircled the playground at school. Inside that fence, we played on the playground equipment and made up any number of games and activities. The fence stopped many a ball from crossing the street We would lean against it and use it as a boundary.
“One day, an adult decided that, from the outside, it looked as if we were imprisoned,. So the grownups had the fence removed so that we would have ‘freedom.’ To them, the removal of the fence, opened wide our playground and gave us freedom. We didn’t see it that way.
“From the inside, from the playground, the fence was our security. It protected us from the outside world. It kept our playground balls within reach. It gave us boundaries that were unmistakable. Now the fence was gone. Balls rolled across the street out of bounds and out of reach. We no longer went to the edge of the playground, for there was no fence to lean on.
“We huddled together close to the building. The teachers encouraged us to move out, but to no avail. Soon we were all moving away from the perimeter of our playground.
“Eventually, the fence was replaced. We were all running and playing all over the playground again. The fence brought back security and safety. We were free. We were free to play and not be concerned about where the boundaries were.”
To be sure, we are surrounded by Christ’s love. It protects us and provides us with boundaries. It doesn’t imprison us. No! “For freedom Christ has set us free” (Gal. 5:1). God’s Spirit is there with us. So let us live by the Spirit; let us also walk by the Spirit.
In the text, Paul presents the Galatians with an either-or option. They may either “live by the Spirit” or they may “gratify the desires of the flesh.” This Spirit versus flesh dualism is very common in Paul’s letters, and echoes Christ.
However, when we look at Paul’s list of “the works of the flesh,” we discover that his definition of “flesh” may be broader than ours. Like Paul, we would associate sexual immorality, orgies, sensuality, drunkenness, and impurity with the appetites of the flesh, but some of the other items on the list, like enmity, strife, jealousy, rivalries, dissensions are ego and moral issues; and idolatry and sorcery are spiritual issues. Either Paul’s understanding of “the flesh” is not limited to our physical bodies or our insert translation (ESV) should have gone with the NIV replacing “flesh” with “the sinful nature.”
Having then itemized “the works of the flesh,” Paul goes on to identify by contrast the works of the Spirit, which he calls the “fruit of the Spirit.” He says, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” “Against such things,” Paul says, “there is no law.”
You notice that the noun “fruit” is singular rather than plural, — fruit rather than fruits, indicating that these nine character traits together are the one fruit of the Spirit.
Our text teaches us that we have been called to freedom, that, at one time, we were enslaved to sin. Sin and the Law make us slaves because we can’t keep the Law, — and we just keep on sinning. Christ came to earth to bring freedom, and yoked Himself to us becoming a true human being like us. He placed Himself under the slavery of the Law, He met all the Law’s demands, and kept the Law perfectly for us.
He paid the ransom price to buy our freedom, obtaining the victory for us through his suffering, death and resurrection, and subsequently giving us His victory over death.
We are not to use His victory and our freedom as opportunities to release our sinful nature and wallow in it, and, thereby, not only hurting ourselves but also hurting others and risking our own eternal destruction.
Instead, we must walk with one another in love, ripe with the fruit of the Spirit. You see, the fruit of the Spirit is the spontaneous work of the Holy Spirit in us. The Holy Spirit produces these 9 character traits that are found in the nature of Christ. They are the by-products of Christ’s control, — we can’t obtain them by trying to get them without His help.
If we want the fruit of the Spirit to grow in us, we must join our lives to His. We must know Him, love Him, remember Him, and imitate Him. As a result, we will fulfill the intended purpose of the Law – to love God and our neighbors.
In Christ, we have been set free. We are no longer under the Law but are led by His Spirit. That Spirit-led life brings us joy and peace in Christ and keeps us from the works of the flesh. Thanks be to God, that, for freedom, Christ has set us free! Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.