October 12, 2016
Today’s reading: Galatians 5:18-25
We as the people of God live by the Spirit and not by the flesh. “Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified their flesh with its passions and desires.” (v.24). We are to avoid the works of the flesh. “Now the works of the flesh are obvious: immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions, occasions of envy, drinking bouts, orgies, and the like.” (v.19-21a).
The works of the flesh may be obvious, but still the people of God fall into them. There are some really serious sins. There are immorality, impurity and licentiousness in the area of human sexuality. There are idolatry and sorcery in the area of rejecting the one true God. There are drinking bouts and orgies which drive people to wild pleasure-seeking revelry. Many of these the Christian who has turned his life over to Christ would readily avoid.
But there is also another set of works of the flesh which many Christians fall into, especially in Christian communities. These are hatreds, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions and occasions of envy. Many times these are triggered by situations where Christians are serving God together. They disagree and they fight.
What is the one common denominator in the second set above? They all lead to disunity. Unity in the body is so important that Paul lists these sins together with the really terrible first set of sins. The first set of sins is personal and basically affects one’s own relationship with God, while the second affects not only the person but also the body. And even when some Christians in a body commit any of the first set of sins, God can still work powerfully through the body, as others follow the Spirit and not the flesh. But if some Christians commit the second set of sins, it can divide the body into factions or even cause outright splits or schism. Then the body is unable to function in full empowerment as one.
Notice that of Paul’s list of 15 works of the flesh, 8 or a majority have to do with the second set. And this second set of sins, in Paul’s listing, is firmly wedged within the first set (between the first 5 and the last 2). Paul is in effect saying, you may think sexual impurity and idolatry are truly terrible sins (and they are), but equally terrible are those sins that break up the unity of the body. These works of the flesh prevent the body from living its life and accomplishing its mission in the unity of the Spirit.
This is why Paul’s condemnation is severe. “I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (v.21b). We know that we will not get to heaven if we live impure or idolatrous lives, so we avoid such works of the flesh. But how many Christians, including those actively serving in Christian communities, including those who are servant leaders, cause disruption and disunity in the body by their acts of rivalry, envy and jealousy, unrighteous anger, selfishness, causing dissension, establishing factions?
For unity in the body, we not only avoid the works of the flesh, but we live the virtues of the Kingdom. “In contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” (v.22a). If we strive to live these virtues out, we will be greatly guided in avoiding those actions that cause disunity.
Are we the people of God? “If we live in the Spirit, let us also follow the Spirit.” (v.25). One Spirit, one body of Christ.
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