The Epistle. Galatians v. 16.
Brethren: I say then, walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit: and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other, so that ye cannot do the things that ye would. But if ye be led by the Spirit, ye are not under the Law. Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like; of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past: that they who do such things, shall not inherit the Kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is: love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance. Against such there is no law. And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh, with the affections and lusts.
Well, here we go again with St. Paul; you know, the guy who’s always telling us what we should and shouldn’t be doing – and it always seems like we shouldn’t be doing all the “fun” stuff. St. Paul can be something of a downer – don’t do this, don’t do that – and he’s not afraid to call people out when they mess up. You think I’m hard on you during my sermons? St. Paul positively hammers the Galatians.
Today’s Epistle seems to be more of the same; here’s the list of “don’ts” and the list of the good stuff we can get if we behave ourselves. Or at least that’s how we tend to interpret such lessons. It seems to me that we tend to take St. Paul for granted sometimes; as if he’s just there to tell us right from wrong and that’s it.
But of course, there’s more to it than that. At a higher level, the Apostle’s letter is not just about a specific list of those things that we ought to do, or not to do, but it is also an exhortation about the challenges that we all face every day; no, rather, it’s about the war that we face every day; the war between our mortal, human nature, and our spiritual nature.
It goes without saying that we are faced with temptation in our daily lives. We seek out and work for those things that we believe will make us more comfortable, happier, more at peace in our earthly existence. We believe that if we can just afford that newer car, that faster computer, that better cut of steak, then all will be right in our lives, at least for today. And we tend to think that if we only want these seemingly harmless things, then we are not really doing anything wrong, are we? After all, just consider St. Paul’s list of those “bad” things; adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings. Well, I don’t know about you, but I don’t see anything about cars or computers or steak in that list; so we’re OK if we want those things, right?
Ah, but then we forget about the last part of that same list; and such like. Now, it might be understandable that we would interpret “and such like” to mean “anything like these things”. But I submit to you that another interpretation would be, “anything likewise inspired by the same intention”. In other words, “anything that we desire for our own personal comfort, enjoyment, and satisfaction”. Anything, that is not directed toward the glorification of God. Anything that is not OF God.
Now this might seem to be a bit confusing; because surely God doesn’t want us to be uncomfortable in this existence, does He? Certainly, God takes no joy in our sufferings, so how could he possibly be upset if we focus our work, our efforts, our lives on the attainment of those worldly goods that make it easier for us to live in this veil of tears? And if you haven’t already noticed it, that was sarcasm. And you likewise should know that you are about to be inundated with Scriptural references.
St. Matthew, chapter 19, v. 23-24; “Verily I say unto you, that a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God”. St. Mark, chapter 10, v 23: “How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!”. And St. Matthew again, chapter 6, v. 20, “But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal”.
Now you may be thinking, yeah, sure, riches, treasure; we’re not focusing on that; we just want our fair reward for our efforts here on earth. Well, let me remind you of the fifth chapter of the Second Book of Kings (v 20); But Gehazi, the servant of Elisha the man of God, said, behold, my master hath spared Naaman this Syrian, in not receiving at his hands that which he brought: but I will run after him, and take somewhat of him.
Gehazi, the servant of the Prophet Elisha who was the successor to Elijah, was reacting to his masters’ refusal to take any sort of reward for having cured a Syrian nobleman of leprosy. Now as Elisha’s servant, Gehazi surely knew the state of their finances and he also likely realized that there was really no profit in being, well, a prophet. So he reasons to himself that it would be OK to accept at least a little payment, and he tracks the Syrian nobleman down and tells him a little lie; “hey, we just had two guys show up from mount Ephraim, and my boss wants you to give me some clothes and money for them”.
Obviously, Gehazi forgot that one does not keep secrets from a prophet, and so when he returns home Elisha confronts him about his deception. And when Gehazi tries to continue his lie, Elisha explains to him that it is no use.
The message here is that all that we do is ever known by God, and that our reward does not lie in this world, but in the next. The healing miracle that Elisha had performed had been done to testify to the glory of God. His refusal to accept payment for this “service” was an acknowledgement that there is no earthly reward that can be sufficient compensation for God’s Grace. Gehazi’s only thought was to his personal comfort; to make his mortal existence just a little bit better. He didn’t ask for any great sum, but his sole focus was all about him.
“anything that we desire for our own personal comfort, enjoyment, and satisfaction”. You will note that I did not say, “anything except for a new car, or computer, or choice cut of meat”. In other words, when we speak of those things that we want, when we think of those things that we crave, when we work for those things that we think will bring us happiness or make our mortal lives better, then our priorities are messed up. We may not be getting drunk or committing adultery or murdering someone, or doing any of those other things in St. Paul’s “list”, but we are definitely in that “such like” category.
When we desire anything that is not directed toward the glorification of God, then we are losing the battle against sin; when our intentions are directed toward anything that is not OF God, then our spiritual nature is losing in the war with our human nature. And when we lose these battles, then we cannot do those things that we must do as Christians.
But, if our desire is always directed toward the glorification of God, if our intention is to seek only those things that are OF God, if we allow ourselves, our motivation, to be lead only by those things that concern our spiritual nature, then we will be prepared to fight the battle against temptation and sin; to win the war against our prideful human nature, and be true witnesses for Christ.
Now it would only be natural for me at this point to begin explaining St. Paul’s list of “do’s”; but you can read them for yourself, and besides, there’s enough there for another whole sermon; and I doubt that many here that are in the mood for two sermons today. So permit me to sum up with this thought;
All of us are faced with the daily challenges of living in this world. And it is only natural that we might allow ourselves to become caught up in those issues that concern our mortal existence. But it is only when we give up our love for the creature comforts of this life that we can truly focus on the next life.
It is only when we have put aside the desire for our personal satisfaction that we can overcome the temptation to sin. It is only when we turn ourselves, our souls and our bodies over to Christ, that we can win the war against evil.
For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit: and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other, so that ye cannot do the things that ye would. And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh, with the affections and lusts.