5 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.
2 Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. 3 Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. 4 You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. 5 For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope. 6 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
On this Labor Day Monday, I am reflecting on the week that we have had and the week that is waiting for me. Usually, my Sundays are spent in worship with all of you, but this Sunday I had the opportunity to love on our littlest ones in the Church Nursery as all of our Nursery Staff were already back at college or off for the long holiday weekend. I did not get to hear Pastor David’s sermon live, but I did get to sing with the little ones on the catwalk in the final song in the Contemporary Service. The song was “Christ is Enough” and it modulated into the well-known hymn, “I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back, no turning back” and I couldn’t help but think that this might be Paul’s main point in his entire letter to the Galatians. Once we choose to follow Jesus and to make him the Lord of our life, we can’t go back to how things had been or who we once were.
As Paul expresses over and over again in this letter to the churches of Galatia, the hill that he is willing to die on is the argument regarding circumcision and whether or not it is needed for salvation. He has said it before and he will say it again, this is no longer the Law to obey. There is a new law to obey, and it is the law of freedom through the cross and it is expressed through grace and love. When it came to the rest of the religious rules and regulations that keep people out, Paul was only interested in a faith that is expressed through love. To quote verse 6, from chapter 5 again,
“6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.”
Think about that quantitative phrase for just a minute; “the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” Could Paul have written it any plainer?
Can you think of a time when you expressed your faith in a less than loving way? Can you remember a time perhaps in this last week or month when you chose impatience, judgment or anger over love? While the law of circumcision is not the litmus test in our faith community today, there are other things that we use to measure one’s faithfulness, even if those internal measurements are unintentional. I don’t know all of your faith stories or the homes you grew up in, but you can all think of the ‘measurements’ we use in the church. Not just our church, but THE CHURCH. What has the church or the people called Christians created over the years as measurements to keep others out?
I can remember, early in my Middle School years, I jumped on the Left Behind book series train and walked through a season of about 3 months of really feeling like the end of the world was eminent and I should both evangelize and save all of my friends from the impending doom. I believe I also started to be afraid of anyone with a Russian name (if you know, then you know.)
Well, my best friend was and is Catholic. I was 13 or 14 and because of this version of someone else’s fictitious understanding of a sacred text, I was worried for her soul. I don’t remember the conversation precisely, but I know I really laid into her one Wednesday night on the way home from youth group (I really wanted to drive the point home). I told her in a less than loving way that her way of understanding and expressing her faith was wrong and that I “loved her enough to not let her end up in hell…” (I promise, I am not making this up). Needless to say, I did not express my faith lovingly, not even respectfully; instead I executed it with judgment and fear. My mother, who was driving us home, had some important words for me that night after we dropped her off about how I could have handled that with more grace. It didn’t take me long to apologize and we are still best friends 20 years later, but as I reflect on this story, I cringe thinking about how I hurt, judged and alienated this beautiful friend of mine.
Maybe you too have had a moment like this when your love of rules surpassed your love of relationship. What was that moment like for you? For the people of Galatia, they bought into the false Gospel that only those circumcised could be truly saved and they were executing that belief with judgment and fear. But we do the same, don’t we? We inadvertently measure one’s faith journey based on how they look, home well-behaved their children are or their marriage appears. How one gives of their time or how they vote and the bumper stickers on their car. And lately, I confess, I have made my own judgments about who is wearing a mask and how you protect the ‘least of these.’ The point is, we all struggle from time to time, especially when we are emersed in an almost constant barrage of fear, distrust and misinformation to forget that the “Only thing that matters is faith expressing itself through love.” What might the Holy Spirit be whispering into your heart today? How might you understand this text in your own life? And what is it that you might tweak about how you interact with the stranger or friend to lead with love, to offer grace and to be an example of Jesus?
May God add God’s blessing to the hearing, praying and contemplating of God’s Word.