Love and the Law

Galatians 5:1, 13-25

5 1 Christ has set us free for freedom. Therefore, stand firm and don’t submit to the bondage of slavery again.

13 You were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only don’t let this freedom be an opportunity to indulge your selfish impulses, but serve each other through love. 14 All the Law has been fulfilled in a single statement: Love your neighbor as yourself. 15 But if you bite and devour each other, be careful that you don’t get eaten up by each other!

Two different ways of living

16 I say be guided by the Spirit and you won’t carry out your selfish desires. 17 A person’s selfish desires are set against the Spirit, and the Spirit is set against one’s selfish desires. They are opposed to each other, so you shouldn’t do whatever you want to do. 18 But if you are being led by the Spirit, you aren’t under the Law. 19 The actions that are produced by selfish motives are obvious, since they include sexual immorality, moral corruption, doing whatever feels good,20 idolatry, drug use and casting spells, hate, fighting, obsession, losing your temper, competitive opposition, conflict, selfishness, group rivalry, 21 jealousy, drunkenness, partying, and other things like that. I warn you as I have already warned you, that those who do these kinds of things won’t inherit God’s kingdom.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against things like this. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the self with its passions and its desires.

25 If we live by the Spirit, let’s follow the Spirit.

 

Thoughts on the passage:

One of my favorite signs while driving is the one that says speed limits are being enforced or often “strictly enforced.”  Anyone who has gone through driving school knows that a speed limit is really meant as a limit, not a guideline or a suggestion.  Still by the way we drive, myself included, speed limits often feel more like casual suggestions, recommendations for beginners, or just friendly ideas of what speed we should go at.  You can tell a cop is near by the string of brake lights on the highway.  We know what the law is around speed limits, and yet we are always pushing the rules.

Rules cannot force good behavior.  In the end all they can do is be used to correct bad behavior.  Even then there is a limit to their power and effect.  Segregationists in the South had the power of the law on their side for years.  Still they learned that sometimes even threats of incarcerations cannot be enough to force people to act the way you want.  All the laws and jails could not contain the dream of Martin Luther King and so many others who stood up for freedom.

Paul sets up a clear distinction between following the Spirit and following our own selfish desires.  When we follow the selfish desires, the Law is needed to correct us.  When we follow the Spirit we are no longer under the Law.  Instead we are giving a freedom through Christ.  We do not need Laws to follow Christ, instead it naturally follows from the love we have for God and what God is doing for us.

Laws tend to focus on the negative, what not to do.  They are there to correct the wrongs we might be tempted to do.  They seek to define actions and regulate behavior.  What they cannot really address, however, is our intentions.  Recently there was a ruling in Minnesota that clarified sitting in a car that did not belong to you was not stealing it.  You had to actually drive off with it for it to be theft.  Now that is important distinction for the law, but it does not really get to the deeper moral issue, don’t be there in the first place.

The law can help us to understand wrong actions.  What they cannot do as well is help us focus on the correct actions.  Too often we make that mistake and try to legislate our way to good behavior.  We think if we just pass one more rule or clarify one more law then we will see the change we want.  Instead we need to be focused on describing the good things we are meant to be aspiring towards.

Think about training a worker for a new job.  One method would be to focus on all the rules that you will need to follow.  You could teach the new person not to check their cell phone during their shift.  You could talk about making sure you only take exactly 15 minutes for breaks.  You cover all the rules of what not to do.  Another approach would be to describe what you hope for the job is.  I worked at Target stocking shelves in college.  Good training for that would focus on the importance of having neat and orderly shelves so customers can find things.  It would cast a vision for what the store floor and the back room would look like at the end of a shift.  It would talk about how we are on a “Team” at Target and what it means to be a team member.  Length of breaks are less important when someone is focused on doing their job.  Rules are for people striving to do as little as possible.  Good workers don’t need to know the minimum, they need a vision for the maximum.

As Christians, we have a chance to focus not on the minimum, the laws, but instead to live into a picture of the maximum, the Heaven on earth we pray for in our Lord’s prayer, the world we are seeking to transform.  Instead of focusing on the laws and what not to do we can focus on two simple things, loving God and loving our neighbor.  When we striving for those things, what not to do becomes redundant and unnecessary.

To go back to our initial example of speed limits, there are two reasons not to speed.  One is because we are afraid of getting caught.  If that is the case, we need to know whether or not the speed limit is going to be enforced.  The second reason to not speed is because we love our neighbors and we love ourselves.  Then we follow the speed limits so that everyone can be safe on the roads.  We don’t do it because we are afraid of being caught, we do it because we want everyone to be safe.  We do it out of love.

Too often we are slaves to the laws.  Too often we think about what we can get away with.  We see things like speed limits and we try to push them, we try to test them, we often break them.  We do it because we are focused on what we can get away with.  We do it because we are driven by selfish desires, like how fast we can get home.  God does not want us to live that way.  God does not want us to be slaves to the law. 

God wants us to love, to love God and to love each other.  God wants us to focus on the positive things that lead to love: joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and faithfulness.  These are the fruits of the Spirit.  These are the things that happen when we focus not on what we cannot do, but instead focus on what we are meant to do: love God and love each other.

Questions to Ponder:

What the rules that you struggle to follow?

What does being freed from the Law look like to you?

Who is someone you know who shows the fruits of the Spirit?

Prayer:

Spirit, guide us with your patience and wisdom.  Help us to be led by your example that our actions might reflect the fruits of your Goodness.  Forgive us when we stray and help us to remain faithful to you.  Hold us close and lead us as we seek to be faithful to God.  Amen