Fifth Sunday After Pentecost (Year C)
July 1, 2007
No Law Against That
Galatians 5:1, 13-25
“Everything I enjoy,” someone once lamented, “is either illegal, immoral, or fattening.” We know the feeling. Paul lists nine Christian character qualities he calls “the fruit of the Spirit.” And he adds that there is no law against any of them (v. 22). There is no law against:
LOVE. When William Jennings Bryan posed for a portrait, the artist asked about his long hair. He said, “When I was courting Mrs. Bryan, she objected to the way my ears stood out. To please her, I let my hair grow to cover them. That was many years ago, I continue it because the romance is still going on.” There is no law against that.
JOY. The Greek words for “joy” and “grace” are from the same root. Paul is a model of joy in spite of great trials. “It’s easy enough to be cheerful,” said the poet, “when life flows by like a song. But the man worthwhile is the man who can smile when everything goes dead wrong.” There’s no law against joy.
PEACE. Some nations and some cultures would rather have war than peace. So would some individuals. There is a way to peace if we want it. It comes as a grace gift from the Prince of Peace. Allow His Holy Spirit to guard our hearts and minds. No law against that.
PATIENCE. “Longsuffering” (AV) as the word implies, is patient endurance. It is bearing the load imposed on you by those who injure you. In the time of Christ, a Roman soldier could compel you to carry his bundle one mile. It was the law, but you didn’t have to dislike it. You could pace off the mile in stony and hateful silence. But Jesus taught a better way: volunteer to go a second mile.
KINDNESS. The word especially means goodness toward those who are evil and ungrateful. Not surprisingly, the New Testament most often uses this word as a description of God. It is only God’s kindness and patience that holds back his judgment (Rom. 2:4).
GOODNESS is the free bestowal of bounty on those who need it. This goodness is at the very core of God’s nature. “The Lord is good” (Nah. 1:7). The gods of the ancient Greeks and Romans were often cruel and capricious. Some cultures still consider goodness a weakness and admire cruelty. Christians ought to be good for something.
FAITHFULNESS. The word may be translated “faith” also (AV). It may mean either trusting, believing commitment, or faithfulness in the discharge of duties. We don’t really have to choose between the two translations. Paul liked to quote Habakkuk 2:4: “The just shall live by faith.” Does that mean, “The just shall live by God’s unwavering faithfulness” or “the just shall live by our trust in the ever-faithful God”? There is no law against either quality of character.
GENTLENESS. Unfortunately, the KJV choice “meekness” has come to mean weakness. Jesus invited us to come to Him, saying “for I am meek and lowly in heart.” (Matt. 11:29 AV). He was not describing Himself as a spineless Mr. Milquetoast but as gentle and humble.
Tony was in the hospital ICU. When the nurses made their rounds checking blood pressure or dispensing pills, they could be heard all over the unit. In a loud voice they insisted, “Yes, this is the right pill. No, you have not already had this one today.” One came into Tony’s room with the same demanding disposition until he gently reminded her that he was neither hard of hearing nor hard headed. A nurse ought to be gentle; so should we all.
SELF-CONTROL. The powers the Creator bestowed on us are capable of right use or wrong. It depends on the control of the will or self. We ought not to think of the self in control of self; that may still be selfishness. Rather we ought to think in terms of God’s Holy Spirit in control of our wills. That’s why all these character qualities are called “the fruit of the Spirit.” They are in stark contrast to the works of the flesh or self.
These are not qualities we work up by human effort; they are the grace of God worked into our lives as we yield to the divine Spirit. Human effort is tying good apples on a dead apple tree. When I surrender the control of my life to Christ, he will begin to make things happen. And there’s no law against that. (Austin B. Tucker)