May 6, 2001
Fourth Sunday of Easter
When the “Good” Die Young
Acts 9:36-43
A song by Billy Joel says, “Only the good die young.” I beg to differ. Billy the Kid only made it to 22, John Dillinger, 31, and Alexander the Great conquered the world yet died at 32. Sometimes the reckless and malevolent die young, their lives cut short by their own unfortunate choices.
At the same time, we’ve all seen tragedy cut short the life of someone with great potential, someone whose relatively few years have already touched the lives of so many. This is the tragedy we sense whenever the “good” die young. Their death leaves a hole within those lives they’ve touched with acts of loving service. If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, then surely the road to heaven is paved with corresponding acts of Christ-like charity.
I. A fitting epitaph (v. 36)
Our text notes that Tabitha was “always doing good and helping the poor.” Will you be missed when you are gone? Will you be missed by those outside your family circle? Will you be missed as much as Tabitha was? Will you leave behind a trail of good deeds?
Upon Peter’s arrival, all the widows were crying and showing Peter the robes and other clothing Tabitha had made for them while still alive. Widows were the poor, the destitute of the ancient world. They had no pensions, no social security and no such thing as survivor’s benefits. Tabitha had a heart for the hurting, and she consistently used her talents to bless the needy. Will you be missed when you’re gone? Will your departure leave a void in the church’s ministry?
II. An urgent request (vv. 37-39)
The King James Version says that men were sent to Peter, “desiring him that he would not delay to come to them.” The word translated as desiring is the same word used to describe someone who is invoking or beseeching God in prayer. It carries that same sense of urgency of those who come to God in trying times. The NIV thus captures the thought with this quote, “Please come at once.”
How fortunate for them that Peter was nearby in Joppa. Rather, we should say how providential. It is not by coincidence that God’s people are there for us in times of need. It is not by chance that the right person seems to appear in the moments you most need them.
Imagine, if you would, the urgency of their request. Whenever a loved one has passed on, we too want someone there with us. The parsonage phone has been known to ring at 3:15 A.M. The weary preacher is rousted from his bed and, dressing quickly, heads to the hospital or to the home of a friend. When death has visited we want someone to come and share words of faith. We want someone to reassure us. We need to share our grief with friends and family. There are few requests as urgent as this one. “Please come at once.”
I remember one of my professors in seminary stressing, “Upon hearing of a death in the church family, go at once. Nothing takes priority over this.”
III. The prayer of faith (vv. 40-43)
“Tabitha, get up.” Three simple words.
In a similar situation, Jesus once said, “Lazarus, come forth.” Some speculate that had Jesus simply said, “Come forth,” that every tomb within hearing distance of His voice would have emptied. How’s that for power?
In another instance, the words of our Savior were this: “Talitha koum!” (which when translated means, “Little girl, get up!”). Actually Peter’s Aramaic would have sounded eerily similar in this case, “Tabitha koum” (Tabitha, get up).
An economy of words. What magnificent results. Tabitha’s ministry would continue. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. The prayer of faith offered at the time of a loved one’s passing brings comfort, hope and assurance. (Dan Nicksich)
May 13, 2001
Fifth Sunday of Easter
Confronted by God’s Vision
Acts 11:1-18
News travels fast! In an age without e-mail, telegrams, internet connections, telephones or televisions news still travels fast. The church in Jerusalem hears amazing news — the Gentiles have received the word of God! Naturally the church found it necessary to gather and criticize Peter!
I. The threat of change
Old prejudices and traditions are being threatened. The long-standing misapplication of Old Testament laws meant Jew and Gentile could not meet or eat together lest the “child of Abraham” become ceremonially unclean.
“Peter, we’ve never done it this way before. How could you actually go into the home of a Gentile and eat with him?”
How tragic that the church was more concerned with this supposed breach of doctrine than they were with outreach to the Gentiles. Scripture tells us the angels rejoice when a single sinner repents. Do we?
II. The conflict: God’s vision versus man’s restrictions
2 Peter 3:9 reminds us that God’s vision is for all to be saved. The Old Testament had foretold the coming of the Gentiles into the Kingdom of God. Israel had forgotten that they were to be a light to the Gentiles (Isa. 42:6, 49:6) and that God’s desire was to bring the Gentiles into His fold (Isa. 49:22). It’s easy to place restrictions on those whose only wish is to learn more of God.
Is our vision limited to those who are “suit” ably attired? What happens when the teenager with multiple body piercings and pink hair walks into the church? What happens when her Mom is trailing behind and you can’t tell the two apart? Is our vision big enough to say, “There’s someone who needs to hear the Gospel?” Is our vision really based on the fact that the worst of sinners has already been saved?
III. Resolution: God’s confirmation
How can you argue with a vision? Peter recounts his vision, including his tri-fold hesitation to go against dietary restrictions. How can you argue with a vision? How can you argue with the direct order of the Spirit: “Simon, three men are looking for you. So get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them” (Acts 10:19, 20). How can you argue with the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on Cornelius and his household?
The church, upon hearing Peter’s testimony, praises God for this surprising outreach to the Gentiles. Wouldn’t it be great if we were always striving to live according to God’s sense of vision? Wouldn’t it be great if we could put aside all our man-made restrictions?
It was the late 1960’s, a time of great turmoil in our country. A man, sporting long hair, beard and some beads entered the sanctuary of a very traditional church. The other worshippers were all attired in their suits, dresses and Sunday finery. His patched jeans, tie dyed shirt and fatigue jacket couldn’t help but be noticed along with his bandanna, rose colored glasses and the “peace” medallion hanging around his neck.
He noted the crowded pews and lack of seating space, so he walked through the staring throng to the front of the church where he sat on the floor. Everyone quickly noted that one of the deacons was now also making his way toward the front. The people were holding their breath in anticipation of what they guessed would be an ugly confrontation. You could almost hear their unspoken thoughts through the vale tension: “What’s that hippie doing here anyway? Look at the way he’s dressed.”
The deacon approached the young man and, without a word, sat down on the floor to worship with him. That young man, who is now in the ministry, would later say, “I had tried all that my generation had to offer and found it empty. I remembered something in a song about Jesus being the One who would receive people just as they were. I wanted to see if it was true and if the church still believed it.”
Well, do we? (Dan Nicksich)
May 20, 2001
Sixth Sunday of Easter
Do the Math
John 14:23-29
One plus one equals two. Two times two equals four. Now math may not be your favorite subject, but math is filled with timeless truths. Whether we believe it or not, one plus one will always equal two. Math is timeless, complex and predictable. A Christian professor of math once told me that it was mathematics that convinced him of God’s existence. We can find many analogies between math and God. God is timeless, complex and predictable. God exists whether we believe in God or not. Perhaps mathematics can help us to understand this passage in John.
In the midst of this long discourse in John we find a strong charge, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word…” (John 14:23a). And the contrast to this is found in verse 24. Clearly, love for God is manifested in obedience. Obedience is evidence of our love for God — plain and simple. The result of this obedience is incredible. The love of God and the presence of the Father and Son are promised, “…We will come to him and make our home with him” (v. 23b). Do the math. Love for God plus obedience equals God’s presence. Simple, right? Wrong. Let’s be honest. This is a struggle for all of us. Why? Why is it so difficult to walk in obedience and demonstrate our love for God?
The passage continues in verse 26 and provides our answer. Too often the Holy Spirit is missing from the equation. The Holy Spirit is our teacher, our counselor, comforter, source of truth and peace (vv. 16, 17, 26, 27). I once heard a story about a Christian missionary who owned a field of pineapples. He was repeatedly robbed by locals. Many times the missionary would see the thieves in action and run after them yelling and cursing. This went on for months. Finally the missionary asked God for help. A few weeks later, a thief returned to the pineapple field. When the missionary caught the young man, he greeted him with these words, “Take as many as you like. I have come to realize that these are not my pineapples, but they belong to God.” The young man was astonished and, to the surprise of the missionary, responded with a grin, “Oh… I see… you’ve become a Christian!” How telling. We cannot obey God without the work of the Spirit in our lives. And, as the story so poignantly illustrates, this obedience is a testimony to others (John 14:31).
What do we have so far? Let’s do the math: love for God plus the Holy Spirit plus obedience equals God’s presence plus testimony to others. Or we could say, love for God plus the work of the Spirit produces obedience, ushers in God’s presence, and the byproduct is a powerful testimony to others. Do you see the two essentials for this equation to work? Love for God and the work of the Spirit.
Let’s get practical. For those of us who love God, how can we let the Spirit work in our daily lives to produce obedience? Here are some suggestions. 1) Spend time in God’s presence, getting to know God through prayer and daily bible reading. 2) Ask the Holy Spirit to teach, empower and direct you throughout the day in each situation that you encounter. 3) Listen for God’s voice. John 10:4 claims that true believers know God’s voice. Perhaps we just need to sharpen our ears to that still small voice of God. Sometimes it comes as a thought “out of the blue.” This may be the voice of God telling us to pray for someone or call them. Sometimes it comes as a burden that we carry for someone, and we need to give it to God through intercessory prayer. Sometimes God urges us to confront or talk or help or listen or give, or… the list is endless. Listen for God to speak and obey. 4) Do what God’s word already tells you to do. 5) Confess and repent. Confess your sin daily, moment by moment if necessary. Sin separates us from God, dulls our hearing, hampers our obedience and quenches the Spirit. Confession and repentance bring restoration.
We may not all become mathematicians, but we can start to do the math. We can all grow in our love and obedience to God as we walk by the Spirit. (Paula Fontana Qualls)
May 27, 2001
Ascension Sunday
Let the Chains Fall
Acts 16:16-34
When something miraculous happens in our lives, why are we so surprised? Why don’t we expect God to move in mighty ways? Acts 16:16-34 describes the miraculous deliverance of Paul and Silas and gives us a model of faith for our own lives.
In this passage, Paul and Silas are unjustly accused and imprisoned. While they are praying and singing hymns to God, the earth shakes and their chains fall off. Has anything like this ever happened to you? Perhaps you have not been thrown into a physical prison, but all of us have experienced our own type of prison. We have been bound up spiritually and emotionally to sins, failures, the past, fear of the future, etc. Just like Paul and Silas, we find ourselves accused and in chains. Our accuser, however, is not a Roman official. Instead, we are unjustly accused and tormented by the lies that we believe about ourselves. We listen to such thoughts as: “You have to be the best to have value,” “Your value is based on how you stack up to your brother or sister, or roommate, or friend,” “You’ll never amount to anything,” “You can’t do anything right,” “You must have the approval of so-and-so to have value,” “You cannot fail,” “You don’t deserve God’s love,” etc. We put our trust in these lies and we are bound up in an emotional and spiritual prison of despair and darkness.
What are we to do? What did Paul and Silas do? They prayed and sang to God. They focused on the solution instead of the problem. They set their eyes and hearts on the deliverer, the healer, the source of truth and life, not on their chains. We need to do the same to be set free from our emotional and spiritual prisons. Psalm 22:3 states that God inhabits praise. Something freeing and empowering happens to our inner being when we slow down and engage ourselves in praise and worship. God becomes the focus. It is as if time stands still and God is completely first in our lives. This was the resolve of the prophet Habakkuk (3:17-19) — to rejoice in the Lord no matter what happens.
Praise is powerful, but we can take this a step further. We can replace the lies that we believe with the truth of God’s word. Here are some examples. We can replace the lie that our value depends on our performance with Psalm 139:14, “…I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” Romans 12:4-6 sets us free from the comparison trap, affirming that we all have different gifts and each is valuable. Do you fear the future or regret the past and believe the lie that you will never amount to anything? Jeremiah 29:11 claims that God has a plan for you, a future and a hope. Do you ever feel like you can’t do anything right? Philippians 4:13 affirms that you can do all things through Christ. If you believe the lie that you need the approval of others, Colossians 3:17 and 23 speak the truth that our approval comes from God. And John 3:16 boldly snuffs out the lie that you do not deserve God’s love.
Finally, forgive yourself for past and present failures. Unforgiveness is a heavy chain of bondage. If we are to focus on God, the solution, then we must deal with this problem of unforgiveness. Forgive yourself. Forgive others even if they do not apologize to you and never will. Several years ago, a church member began causing problems for me and my husband, the pastor. After several futile attempts at reconciliation, I forgave her, knowing that she would never apologize. I was able to see her with eyes of compassion and love her more deeply than I could have imagined. Forgive those who wrong you today, repeatedly and in ignorance or in spite. Forgive every infraction. Forgive. Forgiveness releases you from bondage, and the past; the sin or the person no longer have power over you.
I encourage you to let Paul and Silas be an example to you. Turn your attention to God, the solution to your problem, praise Him, replace the lies with the truth and forgive. Let the chains fall and be set free. (Paula Fontana Qualls)
June 3, 2001
Pentecost Sunday
Accept The Spirit’s Power
Acts 2:1-5
“City Experiences Blackout.” “Storms Ravage Coast.” “Local Politicians Debate Rezoning Plan.” These three newspaper headlines have at least one thing in common. They all have to do with power. Power affects people. There is a form of spiritual power, too. Acts chapter 2 tells us about this spiritual power. The giving of the Holy Spirit is told and the Spirit’s meaning is explored here. Let us learn to accept the power of Pentecost.
I. The Coming of the Spirit in Power (vv. 1-3)
The giving of the Spirit happened on the day of Pentecost. In order to understand this event we must dip back into the Old Testament. Pentecost marked the fiftieth day after the offering of the first fruits of the barley harvest. It was also called the Feast of Weeks. Pentecost thus celebrated the end of a grain harvest.
This festival was important to the Jews who lived in places outside Palestine. Most did not attend the Feast of Passover in Jerusalem so many Jews waited for the feast of Pentecost to go to Jerusalem. For one thing the weather conditions were better. Jerusalem was thus filled with Jews from all over the area.
We should realize that God gives believers the evidence they need that they have the Holy Spirit’s power. I do not mean that we will ever have the same experiences as happened at Pentecost. That event was a once-for-all phenomenon. Even so, we can have God’s assurance that His Spirit is with us.
You and I can be assured of the Spirit’s presence in our lives. This is one of the benefits of our belief in Christ and His power within us.
II. The Empowering by the Spirit (vv. 4-5)
What Acts 2 tells us is that believers will be given power by God’s Spirit. Remember, the event of Pentecost is not repeated again and again as people decide to follow Christ. It was a one-time event that God used to demonstrate His will for the early church.
The believers “were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them” (v. 4). The languages spoken present something of a mystery to us today. Let us remember that the tongues were not given to attract idle curiosity. The Holy Spirit works through the efforts of Christians to communicate the gospel to others. Our focal passage is about communication and the Holy Spirit’s empowering of the early believers to tell others about Christ.
The disciples did not speak gibberish that no one understood. They spoke in other languages that the Jews from outlying regions understood as their own dialects (v. lib). On the day of Pentecost the believers spoke in the known languages of the Parthians, Meads, Elamites and the others mentioned in Acts 2:9-11.
Pentecost was a once-for-all miracle that occurred when God gave His Spirit to the early believers. The Holy Spirit works through the efforts of Christians to communicate the gospel to others. The Christians in our text communicated God’s message with others. That is still the task of the church today.
III. The Explanation Related to Prophecy (vv. 15-17)
If you cannot explain it, ridicule it! That was the philosophy of many who heard the Christians on the day of Pentecost. They simply could not make sense of what they heard so they accused the Christians of being drunk. Natural explanations cannot account for the supernatural power of God’s Spirit in the lives of Christians. They simply did and said things that have no “normal” explanations.
Acts 2 makes clear the fact that the Holy Spirit did something among the believers that defied explanation outside of seeing it as something from God. Peter clearly understood that the day of Pentecost belonged to the “last days”. That does not mean that time and the world would end soon. Instead, the age which climaxes all ages had come with Jesus.
Peter saw that the last days were upon them. Since Joel had said that God’s Spirit would come before the day of judgment, the Spirit’s work among those early Christians convinced Peter that the age he had looked forward to had indeed begun. This was the beginning of the end.
The Tennessee Valley Authority began generating electricity and stretching power lines to rural areas of Tennessee and Alabama in the 1930’s. Officials of TVA believed rural Americans would be thrilled to have access to electricity. They were wrong. Many people were delighted but others wanted no part of that “newfangled” power. Their fathers and grandfathers had heated and cooked with coal or wood and that was good enough for them!
I am firmly convinced that some Christians reject the power available to them through the Spirit in a similar manner. They are used to getting by on their own strength. The idea of allowing God to empower them by His Spirit seems frightening. But when we allow the Spirit to empower us, the church is built and others are strengthened. (Don M. Aycock)
June 10, 2001
Trinity Sunday
Visions of Grace
Roman 5:1-5
In this lyric passage, Paul concludes a previous argument. The gist of his argument is this: we have all failed and fallen short of the glory of God. Because of that, God had two choices. He could either condemn us to destruction, or He could provide a way out. In Romans 5, Paul tells us that God chose to provide a way of salvation. We are “justified through faith.” That fact gives us visions of grace.
I. We have a vision of a new relationship with God.
Verse one begins with the word, “therefore”. It looks back at what was said and to what is promised. What is promised? Nothing less than peace with God! We can have a new relationship with God.
If people need a new relationship with God, then what was the old relationship like? It is described in the book of Nehemiah. In chapter 9, the people are reminded how God led them out of Egyptian captivity. How did they respond? Verses 16 and 17 tell us: “But they, our forefathers, became arrogant and stiff-necked, and did not obey your commands. They refused to listen and failed to remember the miracles You performed among them. They became stiff-necked and in their rebellion appointed a leader in order to return to their slavery.”
But that’s not the end of the story! Because of Christ, we have peace with God through faith. We have access to God’s grace. That changes us. We become like Him. A onetime “king of prison” is leading inmates to Christ. Vladimir Kiselev, who was serving a life sentence, was known as the toughest man in his Russian prison but was miserable according to International Russian Radio / TV, a broadcast ministry to the former Soviet Union. “No one can get as low As I was at the time,” he said. His road to freedom began when he became a Christian. Then miracles began to happen, he said. “I was told that I would never be a free man, but President Yeltsin pardoned me in 1995.” He was told that he would never be able to have his own family, yet “today I am married and have three darling God-given children.”
His testimony has been broadcast to Russian prisons by IRR/TV. About 300 inmates at several prisons in central Russia have become Christians through his testimony and the follow-up work of prison ministries. Kiselev also visits prisons and tells inmates about “the God who fixes even an unfixable person’s life. That which Satan had crushed and destroyed in 40 years of my life, God fixed and healed in seven years.”
Kiselev had a vision of a new relationship with God. It changed him. It will change us, too.
II. We have a vision of a new understanding of suffering.
Paul earned the right to speak about suffering. He had plenty of it himself. We are told all about it in the book of Acts. But he would not allow suffering to make him bitter. Here in Romans 5 he tells us what suffering can do. It can lead to other more desirable characteristics. They include perseverance, character and hope.
The late French psychiatrist Paul Tournier wrote this about suffering. “If anything is certain, it is that every one of life’s trials, if only because it breaks the hard crust of our physical and mental habits, creates, like the ploughing of a field, an empty space where a seed can be sown.”
We have new visions of God’s grace. That grace changes us. It also gives us a new perspective on life’s experiences, including suffering. Let us not waste it. (Don M. Aycock)
June 17, 2001
Proper 6
Justified in Christ
Galatians 2:15-21
I enjoy watching the Crocodile Hunter. This is a show where Steve Irvin goes all over the world in search of various kinds of animals, usually quite dangerous animals, and he films his adventures. I recently watched a commercial in which Steve picks up the most venomous snake in the world. Unlike his TV program, he is quickly bitten in the commercial, but never fear because Federal Express is on the way with the anti-venom. He is informed that a carrier other than Fed Ex was used at which time he falls over dead.
Of course the point of the commercial is that Fed Ex is the only answer when it comes to shipping.
Genesis chapter three tells us that a different type of serpent injected his venom into mankind a long time ago. The venom is sin, it has infected the entire human race from that point on, and its effect is separation from God, and there is only one antidote. The antidote comes to mankind in the form of grace alone, it is acquired by faith alone in Christ alone and results in complete justification! The answer to man’s sin problem is found solely in the person of Christ.
The churches in Galatia had begun right, but they were being led astray by those who were seeking to add various requirements for entrance into a full relationship with God. They were struggling with their identity. In regard to their condition Paul said…
I. We know two things for sure.
First, we know that man is not justified by the law.
Verse 15 is difficult to understand until you take it in context with what is going on. Paul had just finished explaining how his message of justification by faith, not by observing the law, had been affirmed by the apostles in Jerusalem. Then he told of how he confronted Peter due to his hypocrisy. Peter was preaching a gospel of grace and fellowshipping with Gentiles until fellow Jews came around. Then he would back away since it was an unclean thing for a Jew to eat with a Gentile, according to their interpretation of the law.
There had been a wall of separation between the Jew and the Gentile sinner (most likely a common way of referring to the Gentiles). But now, “Paul, Peter, Barnabas and other Jews by birth embraced the way of faith in Christ, the barrier is down and there is no distinction between Jew and Gentile either in respect of sin or in respect of access to God (Rom. 10:12).”1
In Addition we know that man is justified by faith in Christ. Four times in this passage Paul says plainly that justification comes by faith in Christ.
I. We have acted upon what we know
We have put our faith in Jesus Christ that we may be justified. When that took place there was a transfer of information from the mental realm to the heart. There was an application of the truth they knew. Many people have the knowledge, but they fail to do anything with it, and the reason for doing that again is asserted in the last part of verse 16. People who are seeking justification today must do the same thing. You must put that knowledge to work.
A natural question arises. Paul was preaching a gospel that declared that “people can do nothing at all to merit salvation…. [here is the dilemma in the minds of his hearers and many people today] If sinners can do nothing to bring about their salvation, if they simply trust Christ to put away their sin, then… does it not follow that sin does not matter?”2 But, no sooner does Paul raise this possibility in verse 17 than he dismisses it with an emphatic “Perish the thought!”
It is central to the apostle Paul that believers turn from all evil, and he is not contradicting himself with the gospel he is preaching. We cannot go back to the old way (vv.17-19). More than that why would we?
III. We have moved from death to life
We have been freed — freed from the bondage of sin and the law. People who are free shouldn’t live like slaves! “I have been crucified with Christ” This is the exact same word used of the two robbers who were crucified with Jesus (Matt. 27:44; Mark 15:43; John 19:32).3 Rom. 6.6 This declares in a very real way “the person we formerly were was crucified with Him.”4The Lord is not Paul’s co-pilot! So complete is his death and “self dethronement in this new order” that he no longer even lives. He has fully handed over the controls to the Lord Jesus. It is only when that happens that we can experience true freedom in our Christian walk.
Oh how we need to get this! Listen, what is true of Paul is true of every believer: “Having died with Christ in His death, [we] now live with Christ in [our] lives.” In fact, this “new life in Christ is nothing less than the risen Christ living His life in [us]!”5
This reveals the Christian power source (v. 20). It’s what separates Christianity apart from the religions of the world! It is not us holding to a powerless set of rules in order to seek to be counted worthy or to impress the one we worship. It is the One we worship living in and through us in the person of His Son Jesus that we might glorify Him! (Mark McSwain)
1F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Galatians NIGTC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982), 137.
2Leon Morris, Galatians: Paul’s Charter of Christian Freedom, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 87.
3Bruce, 144.
June 24, 2001
Proper 7
Unity in Christ
Galatians 3:23-29
When I was a child, I loved it when my dad told the story about the Lone Ranger and his faithful companion Tonto. I’m sure you remember it. The two were riding through a deep canyon when, all of a sudden, they noticed both sides of the canyon were filled with hundreds of Indians on horseback. The Lone Ranger grew fearful as he peered at the dark silhouettes dressed for battle staring down at him. He turned to his good friend and cried, “Tonto! What are we going do?” Tonto looked at him and replied, “What you mean ‘we,’ paleface?”
There’s no doubt that this famous duo could have used some unity in that particular situation. Likewise, I am sure that each of you can identify with a congregation or a youth group that could use a healthy dose of unity. You know, unity is a very popular word in our culture today. It’s one of those politically correct words that the media is so fond of. Just look at the headlines in the paper today.
Friends, this is not the kind of harmony I am endorsing. I do not come here to bring a message of unity and peace that comes only through compromise and a lowering of standards. In fact my purpose in waking up this morning was to share with you one simple truth. That truth is that we can experience unity today and will experience it in the future. I am here to tell you that this unity will only come through freedom in Jesus Christ. How can we be unified in this freedom? Let’s look at three steps in discovering unity:
I. Understanding the limits of the Law
In order for us to understand the freedom we have and the unity that comes with it, we must first understand the restrictions that the Law places upon us. What is the Law that Paul speaks of in this passage? It is what is known today as the Law of Moses — a system of rules and regulations established by God through the great prophet of the Exodus which was established so that the people of God might show respect for His holiness. The Law, along with a system of sacrifices in the ancient Hebrew world, enabled the Jews to have relationship with God.
As we look in Galatians 3:23-24 we see that Paul provides two illustrations to help us understand our relationship with this Law. First, he compares the law to a prison guard (v. 23). The purpose of the Law of Moses was to communicate to the people of God their desperate need for Him. Each of us, before we came to know Christ, was held captive by the simple knowledge that, apart from the grace of God, we could never be good enough to meet the standards of the Law.
The Law is a prison in that it is impossible to have a direct relationship with our Creator through it alone. Paul also compares the Law to a teacher or a tutor in verse 24. The beauty of this application is the fact that in the same way that a teacher leads a student toward another higher level of thinking, so the law and the restriction that comes with it leads us to the realization that we desperately need grace.
II. Rejoicing in the liberation that comes with faith freedom
The next step to achieving the unity that comes with freedom is rejoicing in the liberation that comes with faith freedom. As Americans we really like the word freedom. Unfortunately we have, in a sense, perverted the actual meaning of the word. If you were to ask the average person in our society today what true freedom is, they would say something like, “It’s being able to do whatever you want.” The only problem with this definition of freedom is that, although it does offer us freedom from certain authorities and outside controlling factors, it fails to offer us freedom from the one person who’s actions keep us in bondage — ourselves.
Oops! The survey of outstanding books on preaching in the January-February 2001 issue contains two errors relating to the book Help My Unbelief. Author Fleming Rutledge is incorrectly identified as a male; also, the book was published by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, not Harper Collins.
It’s important for us to understand where freedom from ourselves comes from. Its really very simple, What better way for us to be free from ourselves than to give ourselves over to someone else? And who better to give ourselves over to than a perfect and holy God? Galatians 3:26 tells us that if we have committed our lives to Christ, we have done just that. And we’ve been adopted as “sons of God.”
III. Recognizing the link that we have together with Christ
The third step to achieving unity that comes through Christ is recognizing the link we have together with Him.
I’m fortunate enough to be one of four children. It’s funny whenever I happen to talk to someone who knows one of my siblings and they make the connection that I’m related to them. The first thing that usually comes out of their mouth is “Wow! You guys really look alike!” I was eating lunch with my Dad and my brother once and someone my brother and I have never met before came up to my dad and said, “These must be your sons.” How did he know my brother and I were my dad’s children? Had he seen our birth certificates? Passports? No. He knew we were our dad’s children because we resemble him. My brother and I are very close friends not necessarily because of the things we have in common. We are very close friends because of who our father is.
As Christians we should look alike. I’m not talking about wearing the same type of clothes or getting the same haircut, but I am talking about maintaining a physical countenance that reflects our heavenly Father. Our Lord was joyful when He walked upon the earth and so should we be. We should reflect the image of God in our walk, in the way we talk and the way we react to strife. We should look alike.
When God views us He doesn’t see us for our faults, our station in life or our physical features. What Paul says in verses 28 and 29 is, very simply, that in God’s eyes there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, bond or free, gas station attendant or multimillionaire. All God sees are His children. When God looks at us, all He sees are little Christs, for we are clothed in His righteousness.
We must view one another as God views us. Only then will we achieve the unity that comes through faith. (Fred Shackelford)
Sermon briefs in this issue are provided by: Dan Nicksich, Pastor, First Christian Church, Somerset, PA; Paula Fontana Qualls, Assistant Professor, Department of Religious Studies and Philosophies, Gardner-Webb University, Boiling Springs, NC; Don Ay cock, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Palatka, FL; Mark McSwain, Maple Springs Baptist Church, Medon, TN; Fred Shackelford, Jackson, TN

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