It’s a question that has driven wedges between believers since the early days of the Church: what are the most important rules that we have to follow in order that we might be considered real Christians?
Some of the rules do vary – depending on the time in history you are in and/or the denomination or sect to which you belong. Whether it’s what you wear, the sports you’re interested in or even sporting facial hair, someone, somewhere has a drawn a spiritual line around it.
Keep to the line and you’re ok – cross it and you’re living in rebellion. Even today, a Southern Baptist has different interpretations on some matters of behaviour compared to someone who is a member of a Baptist Church in the UK.
Such things are not new: it happened in the churches that sprang out of Paul’s Missionary journeys less than 20 years after Jesus’ resurrection. In one particular Church, Galatia, Paul uses much of what is thought to be his first letter to reject law and focus on Grace. The answer is neither licence nor law but liberty through responsible and accountable service to each other.
In matters of equity between man and man, our Savior has taught us to put my neighbour in place of myself, and myself in place of my neighbour (Isaac Watts)
One of the principal rules of religion is, to lose no occasion of serving God. And, since he is invisible to our eyes, we are to serve him in our neighbour; which he receives as if done to himself in person, standing visibly before us. (John Wesley)
To think about …
- Proverbs 27:6 in the Living Bible Translation reads: “Wounds from a friend are better than kisses from an enemy” How, in your experience, has this proved (or not) to be true?
- What does it really mean to serve someone else in Jesus’ name?
- How do we avoid finding ourselves in circumstances where we are in danger of burning out in caring for and/or supporting others?
It was not all plain sailing as the early church began to expand and grow following the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. There was opposition in Jerusalem from the temple authorities who then despatched Paul to stamp out the fledging church in Damascus.
When Paul himself encountered Christ and began to minister throughout Judea and Asia Minor (modern day Turkey and Greece) he found that local opposition often drove him out of the city. Even when the church took root, problems followed – not everyone found it easy to throw off the cultural framework of their old beliefs
- Please read Galatians 5 verses 1 to 15. What kind of things tie the church up in pointless argument and meaningless rituals?
- How does this affect the spiritual life of believers?
- Being born again lies at the heart of what it means to be a Christian. How does this affect our life and our outlook?
- What kind of problems was the church in Galatia facing (verses 2 to 6) and what impact was this having on their spiritual lives (verses 7 to 12)?
- Where might something very small have a big impact? (see verse 8 and James 3 verses 3 to 6)
- In what ways do verses 13 to 15 help us to understand what a loving approach to serving one another involves?
Crucifixion was a form of punishment reserved for the worst kinds of criminals. It was degrading, humiliating and designed to break the human spirit as well as taking away a life.
It appeared to some in the Galatian church (verse 11) that Paul’s emphasis on the death of Jesus, was taking things too far. Perhaps they thought it would attract more people if the offensive nature of this part of Jesus’ work was removed. Telling the story as it is may be an affront to justice and our expectations but that is exactly what the cross is all about.
- Please read Galatians 5 verses 16 to 26. If we live by the Spirit, what happens?
- How is being led by the Spirit different than living under law (v. 18)?
- How do we deal with the conflicts (both personal and in the fellowship as a whole) that might arise from being led by the Spirit, rather than being under law?
- Why is fruit a good description of the Spirit's work in us (verses 22to 23)? How do you relate this fruit to service in Jesus’ name?
What can I do?
- how can I keep in step with the spirit?
- which aspect of the fruit of the Spirit do I need to work on most?