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The mystery revealed! – Ephesians 3:1-13

The mystery revealed! – Ephesians 3:1-13
By Pastor Lee Hemen
February 5, 2017

The books and televisions programs of Miss Marple, Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot and others are fantastic mystery series. I love a good mystery. Trying to figure out who done it, how they did it, and why is great fun for me. I also like a lot of Alfred Hitchcock movies and books as well because of the suspense. Yep, there is nothing like a good mystery; except where God is concerned.

There are many in our day and age and in the past who have tried to lie to mankind and declare only they know the secret or hidden mysteries of God. That all others except themselves need a special book, specific revelation, seer stones, a guide, or advanced teacher to tell us the hidden mysteries of God. Therefore isn’t great to know that the mystery of God has now been revealed through his Son, Jesus? There is nothing hidden, tucked away, or kept from those who have placed their faith and trust in Jesus. And here in his letter to the Ephesians Paul tells us all about the mystery revealed!

READ: Ephesians 3:1-13

You can never truly know anyone; even one’s spouse can surprise you once in a while which can be a good thing. The great thing about the gospel message is that it reveals Jesus for who he truly is and Paul knew this to be true as well. He knew that…

I. The mystery of Jesus has been made known by God! (Vv. 1-5)

For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles–Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets.

1. Things can be confusing when you do not understand them whether it is some new fangled electronic gadget or something that is theological. In these situations it is often good to have someone who knows the ins and outs, kind of like a mentor, teacher, or guide. Paul understood this, not the electronic gadget part but the theological nuances that would have utterly confused both his Jewish converts but in particular the non-Hebrew gentiles. And so he begins to share with his readers from his own personal experience, “For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles”. He considered himself a prisoner, which he probably was in Rome, of Jesus not just in a criminal sense but also as one called out as a volunteer to be willingly held captive by Jesus. He was held captive not for himself but for their sake! Paul saw his life’s calling as the “administration” as a personal stewardship or trust “of God’s grace”. God had given him this “household task” and “surely” they had “heard about” it! Paul had been made an apostle, messenger, to the Gentiles by Jesus. This grace was the “the mystery made known to (Paul) by revelation, as (he had) already written (them) briefly.” The mystery was that God would come in human form, be born of a virgin, grow to be a man and willingly give his life as a sacrifice for our sins! Also do not forget that Paul at one time did not understand this mystery and in fact had held the cloaks of those who willingly stoned to death one of Jesus’ followers. Only later when he was given instructions by the chief priests to go to Damascus to persecute more of Jesus’ followers did God intervene and call Paul to be his disciple to the Gentiles. And so Paul now tells the Ephesians that “In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets.” The mystery of Jesus has been made known by God!

EXAMPLE: The mystery of the ages is not difficult to understand; the problem is we as believers often make it harder than it is. It is kind of like the old joke about the Rabbi and the Priest who were by the side of a country road holding a sign that read: “The End is Near! Turn around before it’s too late!” and showed it to each passing car. One driver that passed didn’t appreciate the sign and shouted, “Leave us alone you religious nuts!” All of a sudden they heard the screeching of brakes and a big splash. The Rabbi turned to the Priest and asked, “Do you think we should have written: ‘Bridge Out’ instead?” I am so glad that the mystery of Jesus has been made known by God!

The good news, the Gospel message is the mystery revealed. But what exactly does this mystery do and how does it do it? Oh that is a spectacular and most wonderful thing! Paul writes that…

II. He was entrusted to preach this mystery! (Vv. 6-9)

This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus. I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things.

1. Paul continued by getting right to the heart of the mystery. He relates that “This mystery is that through the gospel”. What is through the gospel? What is this good news? Namely that “the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel” of all the promises of God! All believers no matter where they come from or their background become the chosen people of God! In fact we are “members together of one body” which is the church, the called out ones by Jesus that form his “body” in the world! Therefore we are all “sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus”! This promise is more than joint heirs of God’s promise to his people it also gives eternal life and the presence and power of God to all who believe! Part of Jesus’ final prayer was when he asked God the Father, “My prayer is not for them alone (meaning his disciples). I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17:20-21 NIV) Paul came to understand what this oneness meant as he explains that “I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power.” God had imparted this mystery to him on the road to Damascus and thereby he became its servant! Now his readers could have wondered why in the world God would do such a thing to someone like Paul. Yet he knew his past and writes that “Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ”. Paul had been entrusted to preach this mystery! And like Paul we also are “to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things”. He had written his friend Timothy that he was to “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage–with great patience and careful instruction.” (2 Timothy 4:2 NIV) From the Four Gospel narratives to the Book of Revelation we are entrusted to preach this mystery!

EXAMPLE: It is sad but there have always existed charlatans who would use the gospel for their own purposes; from Ananias and Sapphira to the likes of Peter Popoff there are those motivated to use the mystery of the gospel for their personal greed and power. Remember Paul told his friend Timothy, “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage–with great patience and careful instruction.” He knew a “time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” (2 Timothy 4:2-4 NIV) We are entrusted to preach this mystery!

Jesus had ascended back to his heavenly realm and left his body the church to fulfill the preaching of the gospel mystery. For Paul it was important that his readers understand that…

III. Jesus’ church is entrusted with the message of the mystery! (Vv. 10-13)

His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory.

1. Paul bluntly relates that Jesus’ “intent was that now, through the church (Jesus’ body made up of his called out members), the manifold wisdom of God should be made known”. It is our job to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything (Jesus had) commanded”! (Matthew 28:19-20 NIV) Paul writes that this was part and parcel of God’s plan all along, that this “wisdom… should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms”. God made this mystery known to all of the heavenly realm when he came as Jesus and when he died on the cross for our sins “according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord”! If that isn’t a mystery I don’t know what is! The Greek adjective “manifold” (polypoikilos) referred to the beauty of an embroidered pattern or the variety of colors in flowers. God redeemed all the “colorful flowers” of the world; all the patterns of races, colors, and creeds to himself through faith in him! This mystery brought Hebrew and gentile together into one body the church! “In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.” Through faith in Jesus we have the right of freedom, the “courage, boldness” to confidently approach God’s throne! Hebrews reminds us that “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:14-16 NIV) This is why Paul writes the Ephesians, “I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory.” He was asking the body of Christ to pray for him a fellow believer! He knew he could because Jesus’ church is entrusted with the message of the mystery!

EXAMPLE: There are those in our day and age who think that the church is a show you come to once in a while in order to feel good about yourself and God. There are others who believe it is a repository where we are to dispense our good deeds to the unwashed world. Or there are those who think that the church is an organization one belongs to in order to gain entrance into certain segments of society or culture. None of these are correct. The church is the body of Christ in the world made up of many members where each does its part for God’s plan that he has for them in the world in order that his message, the gospel, is shared. In this process we come together for worship of him, encouragement of one another, and mentoring to be sent out into the world with his message. Jesus’ church is entrusted with the message of the mystery!

Conclusion:

The mystery of Jesus has been made known by God! We are entrusted to preach this mystery! Jesus’ church is entrusted with the message of the mystery!
—-
This article is copyrighted © 2017 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.

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A new hope! – Ephesians 1:1-14

A new hope! – Ephesians 1:1-14
By Pastor Lee Hemen
January 1, 2016

It’s a new year, a fresh start, and a time to get rid of the old and in with the new, right? For some it is easier said than done. I have never even in my entire life seen and heard such a crowd of whining sore losers. I used to think that this nation would and could move forward no matter who was elected, and this was after Presidents that I thoroughly disagreed with and who abused and misused their offices to further their personal, sexual, and societal agendas. We have a nation that exhibits an immaturity that needs to be kicked in the rear and told to get over itself. A new President does not mean the end of all things; it only means you get to vote a different scoundrel into office in another four years! There is always a new hope!

We live in a day and age where there is way too much emphasis on self. People would rather have others tell them what to think and do rather than actually figure out for their own selves what the truth is! Paul was one of those folks who used both practical wisdom and theoretical knowledge. He did not allow his emotions to dictate what he believed. Instead he used what he knew to be true to influence how he responded. Paul wanted his readers in Ephesus to understand the new hope they had in Jesus and why it was important for their lives. Let’s discover what Paul wrote and how we today can use his advice concerning a new hope…

READ: Ephesians 1:1-14

Humans have always wondered why God does what he does. When life is going well we do not give a thought to why things happen but when life turns sour we cry out, “Why?” Here in these verses…

I. Paul tells us why we have a new hope! (Vv. 1-6)

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will–to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.

1. Paul began his letter by reinforcing his own calling as “an apostle of Christ Jesus” and let his readers know that it was “by the will of God”. He did not make himself an apostle, one sent out to do the work and will of the Messiah. Rather it was God who had given him the task and mantle. He then addresses those he is writing by reminding them they are “saints” and “the faithful in Christ Jesus”. Sainthood is not reserved for those elected to it by any human organization but rather to all who have believed in Jesus as the Messiah are given the mantle of “saint”. Therefore Paul’s authority came from “the will of God” just as his reader’s holiness did. His desire was “grace and peace” to them both “from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Grace expressed God’s unmerited love directed to those who believed in Jesus and peace is the result of that grace! Paul knew exactly where this grace and peace came from and joyously writes “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.” Paul then comes to the crux of the matter by relating why God did this wonderful thing: “For he chose us in him”! This grace and peace was all a part of God’s wonderful plan all along, before “the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight”! Wow! God did this “In love” and in fact he “predestined us to be adopted as his sons (and daughters) through Jesus Christ”! We become God’s “holy and blameless” children because of Jesus and this was “in accordance with his pleasure and will–to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.” This is why we have a new hope!

EXAMPLE: Far too many seem to think that by doing more thrilling things or by purchasing more exotic experiences that they will find true happiness. Then there are those who feel that new relationships will bring new and exciting results in their lives. What these do is bring us a false sense of hope. However the Bible teaches us that the world was in a hopeless situation until Jesus came. Paul tells us why we have a new hope!

We are a curious group of beings and have always wondered how things work. When faced with a situation to be solved we look for answers. Here in these verses…

II. Paul teaches us the how of our new hope! (Vv. 7-10)

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment–to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.

1. In agreement with God’s perfect pleasure and will he freely gave us hope when we had none! But how is this possible? Paul immediately addresses this question by writing that it is “In him (Jesus) we have redemption through his blood”. We are bought back with a price! And this gracious Godly coupon is redeemed for our “forgiveness of sins”! We did not earn it, win it, or deserve it! It was because it was “in accordance with the riches of God’s grace”. It was because of this wondrous work of love that God “lavished” poured out fully “on us with all wisdom and understanding” of his gracious act in Jesus! In other words God has enabled believers to understand his will! In fact Paul relates that God “made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ”! Paul would tell the Colossians “My purpose is that (Christians) may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” (Colossians 2:2-3 NIV) The plan of God was “put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment”. That fulfillment was reached in Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection! This is why Jesus pronounced while dying on the cross, “It is finished!” Complete. God’s plan was to bring about his will for all of his creation. The words “bring all things… together under one Head” translate one Greek word which literally means the summing up of how God did what he did through Jesus! Jesus is the entire summation of God’s perfect plan! Paul teaches us the how of our new hope!

EXAMPLE: I have been truly amazed at the sheer number of people who could not handle the recent election. It’s as if the end of the world has occurred to them; it concerns me to think what would happen if something truly awful occurred in their lives. It also makes me wonder where in the world they get their hope from. God has given us free of charge hope when we had none. Paul teaches us the how of our new hope!

Wanting to know what is about to happen has fascinated folks for centuries. Some have followed charlatans and phonies with the hope to know what will happen. In these verses…

III. Paul shares with us the what of our new hope! (Vv. 11-14)

In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession–to the praise of his glory.

1. Paul has shared with his readers the why and how of our new hope and now he continues in what has occurred because of Jesus. He writes that it is “In him we were also chosen”. This is more than being God’s chosen to receive the Law it is God’s choosing all of us personally. We all were chosen by God and in fact he cast his lot for us! Paul writes that it is “having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.” Jews and gentiles alike are chosen for God’s praise and glory! The Israelites had gotten so spiritually myopic that they had begun to think they were the only ones God cared about but now Paul declares that even gentiles, non-Jews, “also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation.” Hearing means believing and applying what one hears to their lives. And what the Jews could only long for we all now enjoy completely when we believe, namely we are “marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption”! Paul has introduced to his readers the active will of One God in three personalities: God the Father, Jesus the Son, and God the Holy Spirit! It is God’s plan from the beginning to send Jesus his Son that we may believe in him and be sealed by God the Holy Spirit! Believers are marked in God by his guaranteeing presence of the Holy Spirit! And this seal, this deposit of God of himself in us stays with us “until the redemption of those who are God’s possession–to the praise of his glory.” Jesus, God’s only Son brought this all about! This is what our new hope is all about!

EXAMPLE: There is a child’s book called “Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb!” And like the beat of a drum it goes over and over the rhyme so that toddlers can learn. Paul’s message for us this morning is kind of like the drum beat rhyme found in this book in that he continually beats the drum of God’s predestination in his perfect plan of redemption. In it he shares with us the what of our new hope is – Jesus!

Conclusion:

Paul tells us why we have a new hope! Paul teaches us the how of our new hope! Paul shares with us the what of our new hope!
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This article is copyrighted © 2017 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.

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The scolding! – Galatians 1:6-10

The scolding! – Galatians 1:6-10
By Pastor Lee Hemen
June 5, 2016

What would you do if a family member or friend was about to join a cult that would cause them and their family a lot of distress? Sometimes there is nothing one can do because most folks are often unwilling to admit they are wrong and especially about what they believe about God or their spirituality. I have learned in the 30 plus years of pastoring that you can often have the answers, know all the counter arguments, and even understand how to witness to someone involved in a heretical situation but it often does little to sway them unless you are willing to go the extra mile and be there each time they need to be confronted or have their questions answered. Sometimes what works best is a direct confrontation, maybe even a personal scolding.

Paul was deeply concerned for what the church at Galatia had fallen into. After accepting the good news of Jesus as Messiah, they had readily forsaken the truth and supplanted it with false doctrine that added to the grace of God through faith alone. He now enters into the subject matter of his letter and opens it with a direct confrontation. Let’s discover how Paul scolded them to get their attention…

READ: Galatians 1:6-10

No one likes to be scolded or told they are wrong, especially concerning their faith yet Paul does just that. Paul felt deeply about where this church was headed and he wanted them to know he was thoroughly dissatisfied with them and in fact…

I. Paul condemns their perverted faith! (Vv. 6-7)

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel–which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.

1. Paul’s chief concern was to restore those he had introduced to the gospel back to their original faith. It was very surprising to the apostle that they willingly gave up on their faith which he had so recently entrusted to them. He probably had only been a very short time away from them, perhaps three years, and already Jewish sympathizers had come into the new church trying to pervert the gospel of grace! He bluntly tells them, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ”. The one who had called them was of course Jesus himself. Paul was not referring to himself. His concern was their weakened faith. Sometimes reclamation demands a high price and Paul was willing to risk his friendship with the Galatians in order to restore them. They in fact were “turning to a different gospel–which is really no gospel at all.” They were leaving the one who had saved them and going back to their old habits of trying to please God through following a set of rules in trying to earn their salvation. It was based on nothing, literally “no gospel at all”! It was obvious to Paul that it was outside influences that were subverting their new-found faith in Christ. He was not unaware and he writes them, “Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.” This is exactly what cults try to do; they love to throw folks into confusion concerning the truth. They try to bend, distort and pervert the gospel. Latter Day Saints rewrote the Bible to suit their perpetrated con on people and declare that there is more than just faith in Jesus, Jehovah’s Witnesses rewrote the Bible and added to salvation by faith alone in Jesus alone, and then there are those who claim they are Christian but add to sola fide, faith alone by saying it is Jesus plus works or certain acts of contrition. They all claim a different gospel, throw folks into confusion, and they pervert the good news of Jesus! Paul scolds the Galatians about turning to a different gospel and condemns their perverted faith!

EXAMPLE: What was once considered perverted just a few years ago is now beginning to be readily accepted; things like homosexuality, transgenderism, sexual relations out of marriage, and the ungodly veneration of animals over human beings. When the shooting of a gorilla is seen as horrendous in order to save a child, something is drastically wrong with society as a whole. More and more public school teachers are having sexual relations with their students. And now we have to excuse anyone’s perverted nature and see it as psychologically healthy. The twisting of societal norms is influencing the Christian church as well. The calling of God is no longer seen as sacred nor is the Bible. Paul warned the Galatians that if they accepted the teaching of salvation plus works it would pervert their faith. He was correct and Paul condemns their perverted faith!

Every time Christians allow the society they live in to influence what the Scriptures clearly teach, they are perverting the grace that God has given through Jesus! There are certain scriptural truths that cannot and should now ever be allowed to be perverted. Paul knew this as well and as for the Galatian church…

II. Paul condemns their weakness! (Vv. 8-10)

But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned! Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.

1. Paul was having none of their excuses or their willingness to accept a perverted gospel! He bluntly tells them that “even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!” No pastor, minister, or preacher of the true gospel of Jesus is afraid of anyone questioning their message. Either the message speaks the truth or it does not. Either it will stand the scrutiny of men or it won’t. And claiming Paul or an angelic messenger would not garner Paul’s sympathy for their heresy and he squarely convicts them. In our day and age it does not matter whether it’s Islam or Mormonism neither can claim any other message than that of the one Jesus pronounced. In fact, Paul was so vehement in his condemnation of these false prophets he repeats it and reiterates, “As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!” This is so contrary to today’s philosophy of anything and anyone should be accepted. Inclusiveness is not spiritually satisfactory because there are cannot be many truths and as Peter would declare quite clearly: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved!” (Acts 4:12 NIV) so does Paul! Jude would state, “I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints. For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.” (Jude 1:3-4 NIV) Paul was more than willing to have his own integrity challenged on this issue and tells them, “Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.” This is what anyone who claims Jesus plus something else does; they either want to sooth mankind’s guilty conscience or have themselves puffed up in the eyes of others. Paul condemns their weakness!

EXAMPLE: Never ever put up with someone who claims Christ and then tries to justify their own ungodliness. We have become a community of weak-willed wimps who roll over at the slightest aggression towards our faith. I am not advocating being deliberately obnoxious, but rather we need to stand for what we believe! As Peter reminds, “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” (1 Peter 3:15 NIV) Sure we do it with “gentleness and respect” but that does not mean rolling over to the ungodliness of the world! We are to have a clear conscience because “It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.” (1 Peter 3:17 NIV) Never excuse evil or you become part of it. This is why Paul condemns the Galatian’s weakness!

Conclusion:

Paul condemns their perverted faith! Paul condemns their weakness!

This article is copyrighted © 2016 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.

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Of Potlucks, Power Rangers and People

Of Potlucks, Power Rangers and People
by Pastor Lee Hemen
April 12, 2015

Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:46-47 NIV)

These men are blemishes at your love feasts, eating with you without the slightest qualm–shepherds who feed only themselves. They are clouds without rain, blown along by the wind; autumn trees, without fruit and uprooted–twice dead. (Jude 1:12 NIV)

The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ… But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? … The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” … If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. (1 Corinthians 12:12, 18-19, 21, 26-27 NIV)

Potlucks are a strange and wonderful occurrence in the church and I am sad because I am missing one right now. They are sacred in a sense. I have noticed that other groups have tried to emulate them, hoping to gain the same kind of experience the church does, but while they are enjoyable, they never obtain the same comradeship and connection that a church potluck does. Why is that? I believe it goes back to the very foundation of who Jesus was and how he brought together tax collectors, prostitutes, fishermen, Pharisees, priests, soldiers, businessmen, and others to follow him. To become his church, his body in the world doing his work and will. His disciples were a cornucopia of folks united in him. This is why when after his ascension the church was instructed to be together until he provided the empowerment and proof they needed in order to be his church. The God house-keeping seal of approval, the Holy Spirit!

After Pentecost, the early church saw the spiritual and sacredness of the body of Christ being together, untied and sharing that which was most intimate and important for sustaining life, a common meal. The breaking of bread is not just an offhanded reference to the Lord’s Supper, but we sense it is more, they ate together. They shared a common meal that everyone participated in by bringing something and eating together. In fact, these meals were known as “love feasts” by the early church because it showed the love of Jesus toward each member of his local church. Each believer shared what they could and everyone ate. In fact when the Corinthian church perverted the common meals and the remembrance of the Lord’s Supper, Paul resoundingly scolded them! (1 Corinthians 11:18-33)

I realized the other day while my grandson was watching the old children’s TV show The Mighty Morphing Power Rangers that this is a good illustration of what a potluck, and therefore the church, is supposed to be. (You knew I had to bring them into this.) Each Ranger has gifts and is pretty awesome alone and can face a lot of evil bad guys, but when they become overwhelmed they seek each other out and then form one mighty Power Ranger. This machine made up of all the Rangers cannot work without all of them coming together as a unit, just like the church.

The church’s one focus is to be Jesus. We are his body, his church. When we come together to worship, to minister, and to eat together there is a sacredness and empowerment we cannot enjoy without one another. Eating a meal is an intimate affair and when we enjoy a meal together we are setting aside ourselves and sharing that which is most basic to our existence. This is why I love eating at the table with my family, but even more so when we come together as a church, the body of Christ and break bread together!

Potlucks are more than tuna casseroles, bread rolls, and homemade pies; they are the essence, the foundation of that which the church is meant to be. People intimately sharing themselves, what they have, with one another in Jesus to worship and serve him. When we eat together we share more than just food we have bought or made, we share ourselves. Far too many churches now depend on desperately trying to build intimacy in sixty minutes or more on Sunday without any actual fellowship occurring. It cannot happen. You have to break bread together because this sharing empowers us to be the body of Christ we are meant to be. As we eat together we talk together. We get to know and understand one another better. Our strengths and yes our weaknesses as well. We become a church family. This is extremely important and something a mega church cannot do if it only meets in manufactured worship once a week on Sundays. Afterwards when we have to work, minister, or go forth into the ungodly world we know there are others whom we have ate with and actually know right there with us who have our back, and are part of the grand body of believers the church. Therefore do not disdain neglect or not participate in your church’s next potluck, enjoy it, bring something, and benefit from the fellowship that it evokes. I believe this is what Jesus would want you to do, beside you can get a lot of great recipes as well!

This article is copyrighted © 2015 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.

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The Holy Life! — James 1:22-27

The Holy Life! — James 1:22-27
By Pastor Lee Hemen
May 18, 2014

Some believe that global warming is the biggest threat to the world today. In fact, many of the major news organizations came out on Monday saying that the Antarctic is losing its ice sheet and “there is nothing we can do about it!” Yet, according to the National Snow and Ice Data, Antarctic ice is growing at a rapid pace never seen before. Some thought, in the 1970’s, that the greatest risk we faced was global cooling! Some thought we would all starve to death by the 1990’s and yet there are more crops being grown than ever in the history of mankind. Every year brings dire warnings of MERS, SARS, AIDS, the Nile Virus or some other disease that is going to wipe us off the face of the earth. Yet, as I look at mankind and especially the life of Christians today, I believe that the greatest global threat we face is ungodliness seen as a normal part of the Christian faith.

The holy life is no longer seen as hip or something one should embrace in their faith walk. Some actually think that because they have once placed their faith and trust in Jesus, they are now as holy as they need to be. They have their lifeguard Jesus and do not need to worry about how they are drowning in their sin. Nothing could be further from the truth! Hebrews reminds us to “Make every effort to… be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.” (Hebrews 12:14 NIV) And, Peter would admonish, “But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’” (1 Peter 1:15-16 NIV) What then is the holy life? James relates some simple concepts that can help us to understand the holy life better, let’s discover what he teaches…
READ: James 1:22-27

He did not care what he had done, he did not care he had hurt others, and he did not care that he had to serve hard time for it as well. Thinking he could get better treatment, he began to serve in the chapel and it was there he discovered his imprisonment was not just physical, it was spiritual. While incarcerated, he found freedom in Christ. James teaches us that…

I. The Holy life responds to God’s Word! (Vv.22-24)
1. Herein is a primary problem of Christianity today; people do not do what the word of God says. It was present in James’ day as well. What is truly astonishing about this is that this is one of the first New Testament letters written concerning the Christian faith. Yet, we find James very bluntly telling his readers, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” The wording here means to delude oneself or to deliberately fool oneself into thinking something that was simply not true! His fellow believers were not doing what they had just heard they were supposed to do in order to live holy lives! Like delusional dolts, they listened to the fine sounding words of the gospel, left their wonderful worship and their study of God’s Word and immediately forgot what they were just taught! Can you imagine such a thing? Many of the moral and ethical problems we face in our day are not the fault of politicians, the world or satanic influence; rather, they distill down to individual believers not doing what the Word of God says! We have thousands of churches full of folks listening to fine sounding sermons doing nothing with what they hear! We suffer from spiritual dementia! We can still walk, talk, and feed ourselves but we no longer recognize what holiness is supposed to look like. We have become blinded by the selfish faith we put on everyday rather than living a sacrificial life God desires! James declared, “Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.” We are very religious, but spiritually worthless. Jesus disgustingly told the self-centered religious folks of his day, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins.” (John 8:23-24 NIV) Following Jesus is more than a simple confession. Isaiah said that a person like James describes “feeds on ashes, a deluded heart misleads him; he cannot save himself, or say, ‘Is not this thing in my right hand a lie?’” (Isaiah 44:20 NIV) Too many Christians excuse their ungodly lifestyles and hold onto its filth rather than holiness. Paul wrote, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” (Galatians 6:7-8 NIV) Far too many live in spiritual dementia! James teaches us that the Holy life responds to God’s Word!
EXAMPLE: Jesus rebuked those in his day who thought of themselves as holy but did not respond to the Word of God before their very eyes by telling them, “Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart (meaning the person’s totality) the mouth speaks. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that men will have to give account on the Day of Judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matthew 12:33-37 NIV) Well, guess what? Out of the overflow of one’s life, the totality of what a person is in Christ flows one’s holiness or not. James teaches us that the Holy life responds to God’s Word!

She wanted more in life. She had thought of herself as a “good person” and thought she loved the Lord, but there was something missing and she knew it. A harmful relationship soon ended and she had to confront the fact that she was not living her life as God desired her to. She had compromised her faith and what she believed in a hope that this would bring her happiness by excusing her ex-boyfriend’s ungodly life. She opened the Bible and as she studied it and began to apply what she read to her daily walk and she knew she had to live her faith out loud. James teaches us that…

II. The Holy life lives their religion! (Vv. 25-27)

1. The simple unvarnished truth is that Christians need to begin to live a godly lifestyle! James knew that “The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple. The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes. The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever. The ordinances of the LORD are sure and altogether righteous. They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb. By them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward!” (Psalms 19:7-11 NIV) The answer to the ills of the world is the Word of God! The answer for weak-willed believers is to follow their Lord and be holy! James wrote, “But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom (the Word of God found in the gospel), and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does.” Again, Paul would remind us, “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.” (Galatians 5:13 NIV) Love here is sacrificial action, holy living! John wrote, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.” (1 John 3:16 NIV) Holy living demands sacrifice and we do not like to sacrifice anything! We want the sacrifice of Christ; we want others to sacrifice for us; but we balk at giving anything of ourselves away at all! However, holy living also recognizes the delusion! It confesses the sin of selfishness! John would teach succinctly, “If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth… If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.” (1 John 1:6, 8-10 NIV) James continues, “If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.” Whether it is your mouth, your habits, or the way you live, James is telling us we need to live lives of holiness, not just fool ourselves and say we are holy. In fact he goes on to teach, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” Holiness has an outcome. It is more than concerned for others, it acts! Holy living is more than feeling good about oneself; it keeps itself from being polluted by the world! James knew that the holy life lives their religion!
EXAMPLE: Paul was harsh and much of today’s politically correct world does not like what he wrote concerning holy living, but what he taught is true. He wrote, “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. ‘Everything is permissible for me’–but not everything is beneficial. ‘Everything is permissible for me’–but I will not be mastered by anything… Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:9-12, 19-20 NIV) James knew that the holy life lives their religion!

Conclusion:
James teaches us that the Holy life responds to God’s Word and James knew that the holy life lives their religion!

This article is copyrighted © 2014 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.

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Just Wondering…

Just Wondering
By Pastor Lee Hemen
May 7, 2014

Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. (1 Corinthians 15:1-5 NIV)

I was just wondering what it means to adhere to denominational authority and doctrinal integrity. In our day many believers have fallen for the theological heretical fad of non-denominationalism whereby their creed screams, “We don’t believe in anything except Jesus!” However, there is an inherent doctrinal disease that infects this kind of personal theology. I was recently reminded of C. S. Lewis’ “Mere Christianity.” Some incorrectly think Lewis was an advocate of non-denominationalism, but nothing is further from the truth. He was a devout born again Episcopalian. Notice what he wrote, “I hope no reader will suppose that ‘mere’ Christianity is here put forward as an alternative to the creeds of existing communities – as if man could adopt it in preference to Congregationalism or Greek Orthodoxy or anything else. It is more like a hall out of which doors open to several rooms. If I can bring anyone into that hall I shall have done what I have attempted. But it is in the rooms, not the hall, that there are fires and chairs and meals. The hall is place to wait in, a place from which to try the various doors, not a place to live in.” The hall for Lewis was non-denominationalism and the doors were the denominations. The hall was no place to live. He, like Paul, was reminding his readers that there is a huge danger in thinking that one does not need foundation for their faith. The fires of the truth, the chairs of orthodox theology, and the fellowship of like-minded meals are found in the foundational truths of denominations, not in the hallways of non-denominationalism. Just as Paul wanted to remind his readers of the foundation of their faith, this is why denominations are so important. We may have been sold a bill of goods that denominations snuff the Spirit, which never has been true. We then open ourselves to willingly swallow the tacit twittering that non-denominations are mere Christianity unencumbered by the stodginess of corporate denominations. The danger is in the future generations that the heretical germ of non-denominationalism infects. It is slow cultural Christian cancer. The biblical truth that one reaps what one sows comes to fruition in generations brought up without the foundational truths prayerfully hammered out over centuries and common fellowship that denominations and their foundational doctrines bring. Jude, Jesus brother, wrote about how Godless men had crept into the church to infect it with their own theology, claiming they knew the truth. He passionately wrote, “Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.” (Jude 1:3 NIV) Non-denominationalism focuses on the self, it has to in order to justify itself and its willingness to leave behind orthodoxy. It whispers, like the snake in the Garden did to Eve, to the basest theological sins of the human heart; namely, we know what is best for ourselves. In our rush to make Jesus about ourselves and our worship as an emotional response for the moment, perhaps we have not held firmly, contended for the faith of Jude and the truth Paul preached and denominations have kept. Makes one wonder…

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Claim your freedom! – Galatians 5:1-15

Claim your freedom! – Galatians 5:1-15
By Pastor Lee Hemen
August 11, 2013 AM

Freedom has different meanings today. For some, it is the ability to choose whatever you want to do whenever you want to do it. Freedom therefore is having no authority that imposes personal restrictions. Others see it as overcoming all unpleasantness in their past, present, or future. Some believe that because at one time they made a profession of faith in Christ they think they now can do as they please. These reflect a misunderstanding of Christian freedom. They forget Christian freedom is the freedom to obey Christ and reflect His character. Then there are those think that they should perform good works to solidify their relationship with God. They need to realize good works flow from love for God and others and do not earn or ensure salvation or spiritual freedom.

Although Christian freedom has elements of each of these concepts, it differs because it results from salvation through faith alone. This salvation frees us from other requirements for being saved and gives us freedom from sin and death. It also frees us for God’s service, for growing more like Christ, and for following the Spirit’s leadership. God wants us to recognize our freedom as Christians differs from ordinary views and to exercise that freedom. How do you show gratitude for freedom you have in Christ? Let’s discover what Paul shares with the Galatians…

READ: Galatians 5:1-15

As we study Paul’s words on Christian freedom, let’s consider ways each of us can help one another experience the impact of exercising the freedom we have as Christians. Paul had just concluded his allegory of two covenants—the covenant of slavery to the law and the covenant of promise and freedom. In doing so, he used the strong declaration, “We are not children of the slave [Hagar] but of the free woman [Sarah]” (4:31) He then stresses that faith in Christ, not works or the law, makes people right with God. Paul desired that we…

I. Understand our freedom! (Vv. 5:1-6)

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. (Galatians 5:1-6 NIV)

1. Paul in one brief statement summarized the entire point of his letter: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free!” By His sacrificial death, Christ provided salvation for everyone who would place faith in Him. Therefore, Paul emphasized, “Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery!” Because Christ frees believers from legalism as well as sin and death, they are to stand firm in that freedom. They are to keep on living in the freedom that grace provides. The Greek word for stand firm is a strong term that has the force of tenacity, of persistence. It is the image of a deeply rooted tree withstanding strong winds. The term “yoke” evokes the image of wooden collars placed on draft animals used to pull heavy loads. Paul did not want the Galatian believers to miss the full impact of what he wrote next. “Mark my words!’ he commands them. Paul strongly warned against male Gentile believers’ allowing themselves to be circumcised. They had not done so, but they were actually considering it. If believers submitted to circumcision, they would deny salvation comes by grace through faith alone; they would embrace the false teaching that salvation comes through faith plus legalism. If they did such a thing, then Christ would “be of no value” to them! Circumcision was an outward sign of dependence on good works for a right relationship with God, but no one could keep the law perfectly. In fact, folks who rely on works to make them right with God are “alienated from Christ.” They have no relationship with Christ! Paul said, “You have fallen away from grace”, which literally means, “You have forfeited grace.” Paul did not mean genuine believers could lose their salvation; people who try to combine law and grace for salvation are not totally committed to Christ. Partial commitment to Christ is not saving faith. The truth is that “by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope!” A right relationship with God is fulfilled by faith not by legalism. “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” That is, God’s love for us through Jesus is expressed by our actions to others! We don’t do good works to be saved; we do good things to express our salvation that was freely given to us! Christians need to understand their freedom!

EXAMPLE: We are free because of what Christ has done for us and given to us. His continuing presence with us empowers us as we face life’s challenges. We need to follow His leading in order to advance toward spiritual maturity. How would you describe your freedom in Christ? How often do you express gratitude to Him for that freedom? In what ways do you demonstrate your faith through practical acts of love for others? We accept our freedom by continuing to trust God and His grace for our salvation. We also rely on Him for guidance in exhibiting our faith through love. We demonstrate that we understand our freedom through acts of kindness.

Now, Paul warns against the false teachers who sought to lead the Galatian Christians back into legalism. These teachers were preventing believers from obeying the truth Paul said they were “confusing” and “agitating” them. With sharp irony, Paul stated his wish that the teachers who advocated circumcision would make themselves eunuchs. He desired that we…

II. Keep our freedom! (Gal. 5:7-12)

You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth? That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.” I am confident in the Lord that you will take no other view. The one who is throwing you into confusion will pay the penalty, whoever he may be. Brothers, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished. As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves! (Galatians 5:7-12 NIV)

1. The Galatian believers “were running a good race” in Christ, but someone tripped them up! Paul asks, “Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth?” He knew who the troublemakers were. The question put the spotlight on the Judaizers and presents the picture of a runner cutting in front of another and tripping him. These false teachers were hindering obedience to the truth—that salvation comes through faith in Christ alone. Paul tells them, “That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you.” The inference is that it is demonic and ungodly!  He reminds them, “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.” A little lie infects the entire truth! Some think that doing good things so God will love them is harmless, Paul, however, warned that submission to legalism was a corruptive influence. Doing good to glorify Christ is great, but doing good in order to be right with God is demonic! Yet, Paul related, “I am confident in the Lord that you will take no other view. The one who is throwing you into confusion will pay the penalty, whoever he may be.” The Galatian believers had not fallen for the false teachers’ perversion of the gospel, and Paul felt sure they would hold to what he had taught them. Paul was sure that these agitators with false doctrines would “pay the penalty” of God’s judgment. They were lying to the Galatians saying that he preached the necessity of Gentile converts’ being circumcised. If this were true, why would they continue to persecute Paul if he also advocated circumcision? If Paul did this, he would render ineffective Jesus’ death on the cross. “In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished.” The “offense” (scandal or stumbling block) of the cross, refers to the false teacher’s difficulty in accepting the concept of Christ’s sacrifice for sins. Paul used biting irony to shock the Galatians believers. Perhaps they should go further and do what pagan priests did—make themselves eunuchs! His sharp sarcasm, “I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves,” expressed the depth of his anger, frustration, and concern. He did not mean any literal harm to the teachers disturbing the Galatians. He believed the gospel was at stake and they needed to keep their freedom!

EXAMPLE: When have you used strong words to address a situation that concerned you deeply as a Christian? With what attitude and motive did you do so? We retain our freedom by resisting all efforts to inject legalism into Christianity. We need to reject such legalistic demands. We easily can fall victim to the subtle conviction that our good works enable us to retain our salvation. Paul would remind us to keep our freedom!

Paul emphasized God’s call to salvation in Christ is a call to freedom. This freedom is not license to sin but freedom to serve others. Loving ministry to people fulfills the law. Infighting among Christians, however, is destructive. Instead, we are to…

III. Use our freedom for others! (Vv.13-15)

You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. (Galatians 5:13-15 NIV)

1. God had not called the Galatians to the “yoke” of legalism but to freedom. Yet Christian freedom is not to be equated with permission to sin. Paul stressed that freedom in Christ is not license to do as believers please. They were not to misuse grace as a springboard or launching pad for sinful living. Instead, “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.” Rather than using the liberty Christ provided as an excuse for self-indulgence, the Galatian believers were to serve one another through love. The word serve literally means, “to be a slave to.” Rather than become slaves to legalism, the believers were to willingly enter a bondage of love! The word Paul used for love is agape, God’s kind of love. Christ commanded His followers to have this kind of love for one another. Jesus said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34 NIV) Such love expresses itself in sacrificial ministry to others, including the most menial service. Christ frees believers from sin to serve Him and others. In fact, “The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” Love, not adherence to rules and rituals, fulfills the entire law. Paul quoted Leviticus 19:18, which Jesus had quoted in response to a question about the greatest Commandment (Mark 12:28-31). Paul contended that believers’ love for their neighbors—all people they encounter—demonstrates love for God and right relationships with others, both of which are reflected in the Ten Commandments. Loving others complies with the law’s intent. Evidently, these believers were fighting with one another, perhaps over legalism! Love for others fulfills the law, but infighting among Christians is deadly. The Judaizers’ teachings had caused conflict in the Galatian churches. At least some of the believers were “fighting like cats and dogs,” as we sometimes say. So Paul finally warns them, “If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.” The words bite and devour picture wild animals in a deadly struggle, inflicting fatal injuries. The result of such vicious infighting would be the destruction of Christian fellowships. Instead of fighting one another, we are to use our freedom for others!

EXAMPLE: What factors make loving other Christians difficult? By what acts of service do you express your love for other believers in your church? We are to use our freedom to serve others and help our churches. Conversely, we are to refuse to misuse it by doing what might harm others or our churches. We need to cultivate looking for opportunities to use our freedom for others!

Conclusion
1. We are free because of what Christ has done for us and by exhibiting our faith in love.
2. We retain our freedom by resisting all efforts to inject legalism into Christianity.
3. We are to use our freedom to serve others and help our churches and to refuse to misuse it by doing what might harm others or our church.

Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 Biblica. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.

Pastor Lee Hemen has been the outspoken pastor of the same church for 27 years in Vancouver, WA. He writes regularly on spirituality and conservative causes and maintains several web blogs. This article is copyrighted © 2013 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.

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