But First… Love this WayPentecost
A pastor friend’s writing provides a beginning for our meditation today:
My choices daily
seem so casual and small;
I spend so little time deciding how I live–
yet step by step,
and choice by choice,
I build a pattern
by which I
myself am known:
a lifetime choosing either death or life!
Today’s scripture from Galatians gives specific guidance in deciding how we live. The passage follows last week’s when Paul reminded us that the law has been your disciplinarian. It had given the Jewish Christians comfort and security in their faith tradition, being told what to think and how to act. Paul stresses again that now, after Christ’s resurrection, they are free from the restrictions of Old Testament law because of their new relationship with Christ.
What first caught my attention when I began reading Galatians 5 was verse 13: “Do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence”
This new freedom is not an excuse to live any way we want, or to indulge in a lifestyle where our needs are first. Presbyterian scholar Eugene Peterson translates verses 13-15 this way: It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life. Just make sure that you don’t use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom. Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love; that’s how freedom grows. For everything we know about God’s Word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself. That’s an act of true freedom. If you bite and ravage each other, watch out—in no time at all you will be annihilating each other, and where will your precious freedom be then? Biting and ravaging one another are extreme behaviours. Paul offers a list of signs that you are not living by the spirit: sexual immorality, debauchery, idolatry, licentiousness, sorcery– those things that make our stomachs turn. We say, “I would never do that.”
There are others that are too familiar: anger, jealousy, strife, quarrels, envy. One that caught my eye was strife. One definition of strife is violent conflict or dissention. If you look deeper into strife, it’s described as a contention for superiority. Wow, that certainly figured into some of my conversations. We want our opinion to be accepted by most. We hold that our moral, religious, and political beliefs are right. Our desire for superiority causes us, whether knowingly or not, to devalue others. Striving to control, to have our own opinions matter, protecting our higher ideal that no one else seems to be reaching, those are the things that elevate self. Again, don’t use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence.
But the fruit of the spirit are things that elevate others: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. We will come back to those.
In the Luke passage, Jesus and the disciples are traveling through Samaria. Jewish people avoided Samaria even though the hostilities between Jews and Samaritans were centuries old.
The scripture says that the Samaritans did not receive Jesus. This angered the disciples and they wanted to rain down fire on the inhospitable Samaritans. Obviously they had forgotten Jesus’ earlier instruction that they would sometimes not be received with open arms and when that happened they were to shake the dust from their sandals and move on. Jesus scolded the disciples for their attitude.
When we are told that Jesus “had set his face toward Jerusalem,” it seems to say that his focus was obviously on his own impending death and crucifixion. He didn’t seem to be really present with the Samaritans. Here we see more fully the humanity of Jesus when we often emphasize the divinity of Jesus.
This story highlights that Jesus, the Samaritans and the disciples were most concerned with their own interests and missed the point of connection with one another.
Jesus and the disciples moved on to another village. When someone they met on the road offered to follow Jesus, Jesus responded, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” Jesus said to another, “follow me.” The man responded, “I’ll follow you but first let me go bury my father.” Then a third responded, “I will follow you but let me first go and say farewell to those in my home.”
These responses seem reasonable, these men are tied to home and family and the duties of that responsibility. Is this an example of being self indulgent with our own needs? Jesus seems to imply that it is. How does Jesus come to that conclusion and make that demand?
Jesus is looking beneath what they are saying to their deeper motivation. In his first response, Jesus says, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” Jesus is saying that His call isn’t about comfort but a call to service. When the man said, “Let me first go bury my father,” his father had not yet died. The man was indicating his need to go back and care for his father until he died. Jesus words to them uncover their own self-interest; they say I will follow, but first…
How do we eliminate the “but first” in our own discipleship? Paul concluded the Galatians passage with a list that eliminates the “but-firsts.” Those behaviours that are fruit of the spirit become the part of our life are what it means to follow Jesus. Our freedom in Christ is not shown by what we do but by the fruit we bear: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Pay attention to do everything through the lens of joy, love, or peace and the rest. I’m going to look for those signs in my own behaviour that I’m following Christ in this way. As opposed to the behaviours that are signs that i am elevating myself, and to claim, “I need to do this first.”