I wonder how often we simply stop and reflect on our daily conduct and examine whether it may keep us from God’s kingdom? We are sometimes very conscious of the sins of others that we feel will keep them from entering in. But do we similarly assess our own discipleship? Do we regularly reflect on our own failings? How often do we self-assess, examine and judge ourselves as critically as we judge our neighbour? How does Jesus, who ‘knew all people’ (John 2 vv 24, 25) look upon and judge me?In our third reading last Sunday (Galatians 5, 6), Paul in his ‘take no prisoners’ style in this letter, sets out conduct that will keep us from God’s kingdom. What might be surprising, is that he puts some obvious actions into the same ‘basket’ as those which perhaps we tolerate in ourselves.
We understand that those who engage in sexual immorality and are impure will not be in the Kingdom. We applaud such integrity and uprightness and, because we’re ‘obviously’ not such people, see it as appropriate. But what then about *these* below:“The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; *idolatry* and witchcraft; *hatred*, *discord*, *jealousy*, *fits of rage*, *selfish ambition*, *dissensions*, *factions* and *envy*; *drunkenness*, orgies and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5 vv 19-21).
Paul’s exhortation to the churches in the region of Galatia and cities such as Ephesus and Philippi is constantly about how we express ‘love’ for each other—the love that God has shown to me, despite my failings.“In Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The *only thing that counts* is faith expressing itself through love” (5 v 6).“You were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ But if you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other!” (5 vv 13-15). To cut, or not to cut. Neither of them are relevant or matter, Paul says. He makes the same comment again:“Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is the new creation”! (6 v 15)Similarly, in the following letters that we’re currently reading, Paul makes the same argument. Our behaviour, revealed in thoughts, words and actions, must be inspired and motivated by the Spirit of our Master.
“I urge you to live a life worthy of the call you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4 vv 1-3).
“This is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that come through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God!” (Philippians 1 vv 9-11).
The issue of circumcision was a hot topic in the first century community and was the source of contention underlying each of Paul’s letters. It was dividing the community in every place. Paul says, ‘it is NOT important—stop arguing and start loving!’ So if we were to identify the latest topic of contention and argument in our community or local church life and which is dividing our community, how do we normally respond? Please, think about what Paul is saying! If my response is combative, argumentative, “I’ve got it right, but you are clearly wrong!”, unkind—then I cannot claim that I am not ‘biting and devouring’ or that I am not engaging in ‘discord’, ‘selfish ambition’, ‘envy’ or ‘dissension’. And if I am a serial offender—it is a regular habit that I’ve formed—then I need to think about whether I am prepared to walk away from ‘living like this’ (“according to my sinful nature”) until I can communicate in a way that is generated by God’s love and truly reflects the Master.
Paul gives us advice on how we should conduct ourselves. When the topic that inflames our passion or raises our blood pressure (notice how these responses are ‘natural’ or based in ‘the flesh’!) is discussed with us or posted, before we speak or write our response, and certainly before we hit ‘send’, we should gauge our response’s content and tone against this measure:“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying one another!” (5 vv 22-26).
And we can claim the apostle Paul’s authority in summarizing that those who live like this (according to the fruit of the Spirit) WILL inherit the Kingdom of God.
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