“For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1)
Some years back I made a decision not to directly tie what I say here to current events. First, since I write ahead of time, what is happening on this date may not connect to what was current when I sat down to write. I write at least a week ahead, so the headlines of this day will be past news when you read this. But, some events echo in our minds for weeks and months; and some things should be remembered – for the joy they bring, or for the sorrow that was evoked and the learning from that sorrow.
On the day I sat down to write this, the events of Orlando Florida were 36 hrs old but the nation was still reeling from it. And I realized I could not NOT say something. I had already decided to use the Galatians passage for today; and I will be honest and say there are probably other passages that would be more easily applied. But, this is what is before me – this statement from Paul to the believers in Galatia.
“For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.” (Verses 13 – 15)
Oh, but what a statement!
Freedom . . . to believe as you want to believe. The club in Orlando, on a typical night of operation would probably call out a variety of responses from a wide spectrum of “Christian” believers. I do so hope, though, that all Christian believers are offering up prayers instead of critiques and judgments.
Freedom . . . to carry weapons of variable destruction. This is also a wide and hot topic. And already I have read a spectrum of opinions and responses.
Love your neighbor as yourself . . . who are our neighbors? Today, many of our “neighbors” live in Florida and are grieving. I stand with them, and grieve with them, mourning injury and loss of life.
“Bite and devour one another” . . . hatred and violence are consuming this nation. I fear who it might consume next, and that it might never stop.
“Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law.” (Verses 16 – 18)
For Paul, the “law” was not law and order, meaning the rules by which we live together. The law was Jewish law, religious law, that governed every aspect of life. And at one time that was the law that believers lived by. But Christ and the Spirit established a new law, a law of compassion and mercy, grace and forgiveness, and acceptance. Being led by Spirit means treating each other with compassion, grace, and mercy – forgiving one another. It is a very simple to understand that being led by the Spirit does not mean letting hate and violence rule. Paul turned from persecution to preaching. I do not know what the goals and agenda was for the shooter in Orlando, but I guarantee you, it was not Spirit-led.
“Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Verses 19 – 21)
I want you to notice, beloved reader, that violence is not amongst Paul’s list. That does not mean that violence is condoned; it means that Paul never imagined that violence would be carried out. It does not even enter into his thinking; the closest he comes is “strife . . . anger, quarrels, dissension . . . and things like these.” In Paul’s world, events like Orlando were just simply unthinkable, and confined to those who made no pretense to live as children of God.
“By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.” (Verses 22 – 25)
The news media tells me this is the worst act of domestic terrorism so far. Well, that has been said after other such acts of violence. And it seems to me that it is just escalating. Being guided by the Spirit . . . as contrasted to such events . . . it leaves me without words to convey the depth of grief and sorrow. It makes me feel like living by the guidance of the Spirit gets swallowed up by acts of violence. And it makes me wonder what I can do in the face of it.
But then I think, I can be defiant. I can stare this violence in its ugly face, and be even more determined to live out the fruits of the Spirit. To take my foundation and direction from the Spirit, and refuse to let acts of violence change the way I live. I will NOT return hatred with hatred! I will not chose the way of violence to combat violence. I read somewhere very recently that there should be two stances in dealing with human behavior: as loving behavior, or as situations in need of loving behavior.
Paul’s advice to the Galatians seems like something from another time and place. How, one might ask, can it be applied to our current world? But that’s thing; it is needed even more now than it was then. We need to be set free from the violence that gripes our world. And the only way we will be free it is to apply love to every situation.
Beloved reader, may our Lord and God give you the strength and courage to apply love to every situation. Selah!