Fellowship in Love

I relish the opportunity to  study. Nothing sticks with you as well as something you have labored for hours over … and then to communicate it? I can think of fewer privileges greater than such. With a two week notice, I took one to refresh my familiarity with content with the excellent commentary by Martin Luther (I recommend it), and took the next to think deeply on the passage. I was a bit distracted though because I also facilitated for Soldiers but those notes aren’t coming anytime soon.

Just so you know, this is a partial and edited (thus extended) rendition of my transcript. I realize in hindsight of numerous occasions that I rarely say anything close to what is written here, but main ideas are always flushed out. I edited this in light of some things I said that were not previously in my notes and I added the introduction of the F’s which I did impromptu.  If you can make it all the way through, kudos to you … if you quit halfway, I completely understand. Most if not all of this will merely stir you up by way of reminder, for there is nothing particularly new here, though perhaps a different spin. However the convictions in my heart are fresh and I pray that the Jr. High kids learned something too.

I actually had three points, but I cut one out because this post would be obnoxiously long and it doesn’t fit too well with the compare and contrast of the different kind of fellowships. The point was to fellowship in love to your ministers and teachers (Galatians 6:6-10)

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TIGS 2010: Galatians 5:25 – Galatians 6:10 (This version has been reworked to Galatians 5:25-Galatians 6:5)

_Introduction

_Review of the five F’s: So my friend Mike Chen who has been the chief orchestrator of the Jr. High series in Galatians has a series of points all beginning with the letter ‘F’ to help the youth remember the key doctrines of the letter. Here was my quick review based on my understanding of the letter.

  1. Fight for the Gospel (1:1-1:10): The letter of Galatians is unique in its structure because unlike Paul’s other epistles, it contains no salutation.  He does not mention how he is intensely thankful for them nor does he mention how he prays for them. It begins with astonishment that they would abandon the good news of justification by faith alone, for another (and false) gospel of justification by faith and works. The primary work discussed is circumcision.
  2. From God (1:11-2:10): Paul begins this letter by defending his apostleship by pointing to the fact that he had received his message from God, not man. The false teachers were sowing seeds of doubt concerning the doctrine of justification by faith alone and wanted to usurp Paul’s authority by claiming that he brought to them a false message. Paul reasons that he had stood in stark defense of the Gospel truth, even if that meant confronting the apostle Peter when he went astray. He was pointing to the authority of God, not that of men.
  3. Faith Alone (2:11-3:22): This is the key truth of contention in this Gospel and all other aspects of the letter wield their power through in this doctrine. We note that Galatians was primarily written to the judaizers, who are trying to teach Gospel plus works. Paul rationalizes by pointing to the father of Judaism and asks if he was justified by faith or works? Here we see intense allusions to Genesis 12:1-3, as the blessing unto other nations preached to Abraham is alluded to as the Gospel (but this would be too far too long a post if the point was elaborated). He explains the law, both in its use and its place and came to the conclusion of the reformation that cries ‘sola fide.’
  4. Free Sons (3:23-5:12): In light of the doctrine of justification by faith alone, we rejoice in our freedom to serve a perfect master. We are free from the burden of the law, and as we’ll see later, we abide by a new and better law. He uses an illustration of Sarah and Hagar to illustrate this.
  5. Fruit of the Spirit (5:13-6:10): This is the response to the doctrine of justification by faith. This truth allows us to run well and run hard, for our motivation is not in what we can accomplish but rather what has been accomplished at Calvary. We no longer commit the deeds of the flesh but we bear the fruit of the Spirit.

_Today we are going to see an application of the primary truth that the Apostle Paul is contending for throughout this letter. The book of Galatians contends for the foundational truth “justification by faith.” False teachers had entered the church of Galatia after Paul left and began to preach a different gospel (1:6-8). The word ‘Gospel’ is not exclusive to the Christian faith, for it literally means ‘good news.’ We see in chapter one how there are two gospels, one is from man and the other from God. Paul has taken great pains to write this letter and Galatians is unique in that it has no salutation. It is a letter written in earnest defense of the apostle and he spends part of the letter defending his calling and the other defending salvation as ‘sola fide,’ or faith alone.

_The themes of Galatians are evident even in the application, for that is often how encouragement and correction take place. It is biblical truth followed by biblical exhortation. Today we are going to be talking about how to conduct oneself in the household of God. In light of our freedom from the law and our salvation unto grace, there is an expectation of how we are to conduct ourselves around believers. Notice that the fruit of the Spirit are not defined as actions, but as character traits we are to cultivate among other people. The law prescribes action and outward obedience while the Gospel looks at the heart. Let’s read our passage for the evening.

25If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. 26Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another. 1Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. 2Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. 3For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. 4But each one must examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another. 5For each one will bear his own load.

_With that in mind, we are going to examine two points concerning our conduct in the house of God from our passage this evening (we are essentially going to discuss fellowship):
1. There is an improper and selfish fellowship. The first point is “Fellowship under the Mosaic law.”
2. There is a God-glorifying and Christ-exalting fellowship. The second point is “Fellowship under Christ’s law.”

Fellowship under the Mosaic Law

_I know the title of this point is deceptive. Let me establish that Paul is talking to believers. These are believers who are blending together the law and the Gospel, similar to the false teachers who preached salvation through Jesus and works. It is a combination of law and grace that leaves a bitter taste and deceives the mind. It is a gospel separate from what Paul declared to them. In the letter of Galatians, he is earnestly contending that salvation is faith alone.

_The reason why we are talking about fellowship this evening is because I want to compare the “one another” statements. We see two distinct uses of the phrase, one in a way that point to the works of the flesh while the other points to the fruit of the spirit. Understanding this distinction is critical because it is very easy to fall into a fellowship that is not loving toward your neighbor or God. By the nature of the word, fellowship implies interaction with others. Again I remind you that here Paul is talking to Christians, and in the flesh we are prone to backslide to the Mosaic Law. This is something where we ought to exercise caution and examine ourselves.

_What characterizes fellowship that abides by the Mosaic law? The Apostle Paul says that it is one of comparison. A comparison to what? It is an unhealthy comparison to your fellow brothers and sisters. It is a fellowship that makes a judgment on every single person you come into contact with. This is the root of spiritual pride. Let’s use an example of muscular strength. Upon walking up to you, I can make the judgment, “I am stronger than you” or “I am definitely weaker than you.” When I walk up to x and come away thinking I am better, what kind of attitude arises? I become boastful and conceited because I recognize my strength as great. I become prideful in my ability. But when I walk to someone who is obviously stronger than I am, I walk away sad but mostly envious. Part of me wants to say, “One day I’ll show him! One day I will surpass him and be the best in this room.” It is similar to Eve’s “desire” for her husband, which is an intense desire to conquer one who wields power and authority over her.

_The same principle exists in our spiritual walks. It is easy have an attitude that is like a balance. You always put yourself on one side and whoever you’re interacting or praying for on the other. Then you see if you’re heavier or lighter than them, and thus whether you should swell up with pride or turn green with envy. We must ask ourselves though: “What is it that Christians can compare? What is the equivalent to physical strength to the believer?”

_What Christians can compare is their righteousness. Much of this depends on what one believes about righteousness and it is here where we see the arena where Paul is contending. The Christian believes that all of his righteousness is from Christ which leaves no room for boasting but only rejoicing. The one who ascribes to the law does not see Christ and His imputed righteousness but levels of purity that attempts to climb toward heaven but inevitably falls short. The one who believes in faith plus works sees rungs on the ladder, with people on various steps.

_The reason why this point is called fellowship under the Mosaic law is because the attitude and heart of comparison is so obviously rooted in it and the nature of the flesh. It is one that grants different levels of righteousness and prescribes that some are much higher than others. There is a lot of pride to be found in the Mosaic Law when used incorrectly. Now this is an incredibly vital point to understand – the correct use of the law. There is a dual purpose to the law: to establish civil order in the great nation of Israel and to point and magnify our sin. It is there to condemn the conscience and drive us to the cross of Christ. Paul believes that the law of God is good if used properly, but once we give it a purpose for which was never intended, we distort not only the law but also the Gospel.

_Martin Luther said this, “We say with Paul that the Law is good if it is used properly. Within its proper sphere the Law is an excellent thing. But if we ascribe to the Law functions for which it was never intended, we pervert not only the Law, but also the Gospel. It is the universal impression that righteousness is obtained through the deeds of the law. This impression is instinctive and therefore doubly dangerous. Gross sins and vices may be recognized or else repressed by the threat of punishment. But this sin, this opinion of man’s own righteousness refuses to be classified as sin. It wants to be esteemed as high class religion (235).”

_People who always compare themselves are misusing the law. Rather than feel the weight of guilt and the need for a savior, they use it to feel more righteous! Paul argues against the use of the law to make believers holy earlier in the letter because the Galatians are being deceived to believe that works adds to our justification in Christ to form a complete righteousness. The most notorious example of comparison (though these people were not saved) is the Pharisees. Let’s turn to Luke 18 and read the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. Pay very close attention to verse 9 and how the law serves to puff up one man while the other is humbled.

9And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt10“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11“The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12‘I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’ 13“But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ 14I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

_To trust solely in our obedience before God is a terrible thing, but Paul gives us two solutions to combat this as believers: the first is to abide by the law of Christ which we will mention later, and the other is to consider the moment when we stand before God at the end of time. Let’s read from Galatians 6:3-5.

_As we mentioned earlier, the fellowship under the Mosaic law relies on others to inflate their view of themselves. Not only is it self- promotion, but often time things are done to impress others and to improve image. The standard that you set for yourself based on your surroundings will always be easy to follow and most of the time, you’ll find yourself righteous. The one who believes in works is not only justified in their own opinion, but also in those of others. This is ridiculous, and we see allusions to Paul’s solution when he says, “Look to yourself so that you too will not be tempted.” In order to defeat such an outrageous thought of being saved by a personal standard, Paul takes us to the throne room of God.

_Before we go to that great place where the angels cry, “Holy, holy, holy,” let’s take a closer look at verse three. A man who thinks he is something is chasing after vain glory, for he is nothing. He is the conceited man spoken of in verse 26 of chapter five. It is like the man who chases the wind in Ecclesiastes with the intent of catching it. It is a ridiculous image to imagine someone so bent on catching something that cannot be caught. That man is deceived. In the same way we can say that self conceit is self deceit. What is the deception? The man or brother who compares himself to himself to others is using the wrong standard. When you talk to non-believers about the Gospel, many don’t believe they need it because they don’t think they are bad people. Usually it’s, “I’m a good person, and everyone else has got a problem.” Even non-Christians believe they would be justified by their works before God if they had to suppose such a being existed. They look to the prisons, slums, and bars and see what they believe are bad people but fail to find fault when they look in their mirror. To be justified by anything beyond God’s standard is to make little of sin.

_God is not interested in man’s silly standard because he values perfection. God is holy and He is perfect. The only opinion of you that matters in this universe is God’s opinion. Apart from faith in Jesus Christ and His righteousness, you are nothing in the court of God. Actually, you are a number of negative things: we are unwanted orphans, blind, rebels, haters of God. We all fall woefully short of the glory of God’s perfect standard. The law is supposed to point us to this fact, but instead seeks to be “high religion” as Luther said. The misuse of the law counts a man justified by the law rather than its proper use of overwhelming the conscience.

_Paul says to strip away the crowds and take away the people. You will bear your own load as verse five says. Don’t pay attention to what other people are doing or for false standards they set for themselves. God’s standard of holiness does not change whether you are in TIGS or an adult. Though as Christians we do not have to fear the judgment that condemns, we will nonetheless, be judged according to what we have been given. The reason why we avoid wrath is because we know that we are nothing and that Christ is everything. Let’s read I Corinthians 1:28-31.

27but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, 28and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, 29so that no man may boast before God. 30But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption,31so that, just as it is written, “LET HIM WHO BOASTS, BOAST IN THE LORD.”

Rejoice in your nothingness and look to the Savior! As the song lyric goes from an old hymn, “Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to the cross I cling.” Let us not pay attention to the compliments of men or our conscience, but seek what is pleasing to the Lord as found in His Word. If you want to combat spiritual pride, consider the judgment and the cross, for our righteousness is not of us or other people but from faith in Jesus Christ.

Fellowship under Christ’s Law

_As mentioned earlier, we are considering what it means to act within the household of God toward other believers. We saw that an attitude of contention and comparison is unhealthy and reflects an improper use of the law. Paul has been attacking this view throughout the letter by combating the law with the grace of God in the Gospel.

_Isn’t it strange how Paul uses the language, “the law of Christ?” You would think that it is counter-intuitive, but it actually makes perfect sense. It’s similar to the example that Paul gives to us in Romans, where he says we were once slaves to sin but says that in Christ we become slaves to righteousness. It is strange, but effective in communicating truth.

_So what is the law of Christ? It is the opposite of the Mosaic Law. The Mosaic Law is rooted in obedience and obligation and often breeds pride while the law of Christ as we will see, has its origins in love and cultivates humility and the fruits of the Spirit. Let’s turn to a few passages to read about the “law of Christ.” Let’s read from three passages: Galatians 5:14, John 13:35-35, and I John 4:20-21.

34“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35“By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

20If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.21And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also.

_The crystal clear law of Christ is one of love. Earlier we saw how selfish and conceited one could become under the Mosaic law. The spirit of judgmental comparison leads to boasting because it uses the wrong standard and compares itself to people. Note how different the law of Christ is, for it understands that all of our righteousness is from God! It uses God’s standard and sees that there is no place to run except to the foot of the cross. The love of the Christian is not rooted in its own work, but in the work of another. We are righteous because of an alien righteousness and we love perfectly because we witness and are recipients of perfect love. Let’s read from I John 4:7-12.

7Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. 10In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.12No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us.

_Why does the cross promote humility? Because the believer knows that it is nothing that he has done and it is all about what Christ has done. The cry of the redeemed is also, “It is finished.” We bask in our imputed or positional righteousness knowing we could only earn wrath rather than credit with the Almighty. We cherish our nothingness so that Christ may get the glory in love. We gaze on the greatest act of love, of the Son of God giving up His life – not for friends, but for enemies that were to be reconciled. We love because Christ first loved us, and we are selfless because Christ was selfless (Philippians 2). Christ is the example, the means, and the goal in service, humility, and love.

_Turning back to Galatians, we can see the difference between the two fellowships immediately. One suffers because it looks only to self; it promotes pride and produces envy while the other looks solely to others and seeks to serve. One is motivated by self-righteousness and one looks to the virtue of another. The first of the two options is such a pathetic lifestyle, to find one’s worth in their own merit and thus becoming immersed in the rat race of righteousness. One of the jobs of the one who fulfills the law of Christ is to restore the brothers and sisters who always compare back to faith. We know that Paul is talking to brothers and those who are spiritual and they are commanded to bring the comparing brothers back to faith with a spirit of gentleness and meekness.

_I want to bring our attention to the phrase “a spirit of gentleness” because it is important as believers to be kind while making a peer realize their error and “restoring” him. I remind us that Paul is not addressing the false teachers, but believers who have so quickly deserted the true Gospel and have slid into a spirit of contention. The reason why Paul says to use such a spirit is because he knows that all believers are prone to fall into this sin, and so they ought to conduct themselves in a way that they’d like to be treated if they fell into the same snare. We see in verse three that the sin here is to believe you are something by yourself when the reality is that you are nothing apart from faith in Christ. An even more dangerous deception is to believe you are something in Christ with works. This is why it is an important part of fulfilling the law of Christ and conducting yourself in the house of God by having a spirit of gentleness. That is why it is one of the fruits of the Spirit! I cannot emphasize this enough, that the law of Christ is that of love.

_To bear the burdens of another is to be sacrificial and looking to the interests of others rather than yourself. The greatest act of love in the context of this passage is to relieve a fellow brother or sister of the burden of the law by pointing them to the finished work of Christ. The law was intended to burden the conscience, but Christ’s yoke is easy and his burden is light. There is freedom in the good news, and this not only is applicable to the law but to any other anxiety or sin we fall susceptible to.

Let’s quickly recap concerning how we should conduct ourselves in the household of God. First, we should not have a spirit of boasting because we are nothing apart from faith in Christ. If we’re always trying to compare ourselves and we use people as our standard, we are deceiving ourselves, especially as we stand before the only opinion that matters. This is clearly not Biblical fellowship, but all believers are prone to fall into this trap. It is important that we are able to discern the traits that appear in each fellowship. We are rather to act in love toward each other, by serving them and carrying their burdens. Christian love is radically different than non-Christian love, and it not only benefits the house of God but also serves as an evangelistic tool (John 13:35) We are to remind each other of what Christ has done, for the greatest act of love is to direct people’s attention to the greatest act of love – the Gospel. It will grant a peace that transcends understanding. Let us support each other for His glory!

Fin.

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. JKP says:

    Yeah, I heard you spoke at TIGS! I was very glad to hear that. Don’t really have time to read all of this yet, but I’ll come to it soon, which is to say… this weekend! Harhar.

    Thanks for sharing, Anthony.

  2. jonathanmoon says:

    anthony..this was one of the longest blog posts I ever read but it was really helpful in terms of what true Christ centered fellowship and love should look like.

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