Yogi Berra, the great legend of baseball was known for his confusing sayings. Things like; “This is deja-vu, all over again!”, or “You can observe a lot just by watching.” My favorite was, “Baseball is 90% mental, and the other half is physical.”
Mr. Berra should have been known as Mr. Confusion. He once said that he knew he was going to take the wrong train, so he left early. He once looked right into the TV camera and as serious as he could be, he said, “A nickel isn’t worth a dime, these days.” Of course, we all know his most famous saying; “It ain’t over till it’s over.”
He wasn’t the only person to ever get mixed up, though. It seems that this world is filled with confused folks. And that isn’t confined to just today, either. The reason Paul was writing to the Galatians is to clear up the confusion that had been introduced to their churches by some who were false teachers.
‘You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth? That kind of persuasion does not come from the One who calls you. “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.” I am confident in the Lord that you will take no other view. The one who is throwing you into confusion will pay the penalty, whoever he may be.
Brothers, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case, the offense of the cross has been abolished. As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!
You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature, rather serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.’
Quite a mouthful, isn’t it? In just eight verses, Paul gives us many words, all dealing with deception and confusion within the church. Let’s see if we can break this down a bit and understand it more.
In Paul’s words, we have a ‘What’, a ‘Who’, and a ‘Which’. The first thing we need to know is ….
1. WHAT REALLY MATTERS
In VERSE 6, we are told what really matters. It says, ‘the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.’
In their church, the Galatians had leaders who were teaching that many things counted, especially the outward requirements of the Old Testament Law that showed Jewish identity. Paul cuts through this confusion and tells them that the only thing that counts is the genuine and pure faith that shows itself outwardly, not in symbolic ways, but in practical ways; in loving ways.
Paul is telling them that a surgical procedure doesn’t matter; a dress code does not matter; and specific diets do not, in themselves matter. These things are legalistic, shallow, and false. They are not genuine. He tells them that the only thing that matters is faith in Christ Jesus.
Specifically, what matters is trusting that the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross was sufficient – in itself - to pay for all of our sins. It is trusting that we do not have to add anything to what He has already done: It is knowing that there is nothing we can do by ourselves that merits God’s favor. And, finally, what matters is being able to humble our hearts in faith so we can accept the offer of salvation that has been given us.
Every time we reach out in faith, something changes. It might be in the situation we are in, and it might be within ourselves, but every time we reach out in faith – something changes.
So, we need to know what really matters, but we also need to know …
2. WHO IS DOING THE TEACHING
Jesus said that His sheep know His voice and they follow Him. A very important way to avoid the confusion of this world is to know the voice of Jesus so you can discern who is doing the teaching. Paul is telling the Galatians that they are being confused by wrong teachings, and he is telling them that does not come from Jesus.
In VERSE 8, Paul says
‘That kind of persuasion does not come from the One who calls you.’
There have always been, and there will always be false teachers within the church. They will come shouting Scripture to support their claims, they will come with followers, and they will seem to be doing the work for Jesus. It will be up to each of you to recognize them when they come. But how do you do that?
Sometimes, fake will at first appear real. Here is an illustration of what I mean. A couple stopped by a fried chicken place one day one day and ordered a bag of chicken to take to a picnic. They got the bag and headed off to their picnic. When they got there, they opened up that bag, ready to enjoy some really fine chicken, but found over $800.00 instead.
The man remembered the manager counting the money as they walked in to the restaurant, so he figured that they had been given the wrong bag. Now, he did what most people may have a hard time doing. He instantly drove back to the restaurant and gave the money back, saying all he wanted was the chicken. We would all agree that this man was the hero of the day, wouldn’t we? We would all agree that he must be one mighty fine person to do such a noble thing, right?
The manager was so relieved and excited, he said he would call the paper and have them run an article about how much of a hero and good guy this man was. The man told him not to do that, because the woman he was with wasn’t his wife.
What seemed like Mr. Wonderful at first turned out to be Mr. Nasty. And we find that same scenario happening in America today with regards to our faith. What at first seems wonderful and wholesome sometimes turns out to be nasty and vile, but we can only discern that by first knowing what wonderful and wholesome really is. Read your Bibles daily. Ponder on what your read. Go to prayer and ask God to enlighten you and teach you through His Holy Spirit.
It is impossible to spot a counterfeit dollar if you don’t know what a real one looks like, and you will not be able to recognize a false gospel if you aren’t familiar with what the real Gospel is. It will still be hard to discern, because false teachers are trained to bend the Scripture for their own purposes.
The only real defense is to know enough about the Scripture yourself to spot the holes in their teachings. And the only way you can do that is to immerse yourself in the Word of God on a daily basis; to spend goodly amounts of time in daily prayer; and to ponder the Word. That means to think about all that you have read and try you best to understand it. Remember, Jesus told us that if we seek, we shall find, and if we ask, it will be given. He is saying, “Here it is, folks, I will give you the information, but you need to come to me to get it.” We need to go to Jesus regularly and often.
Without the love of Christ in our hearts, we remain as the world is; cold and selfish, looking to only please our own desires. False teachings will not change us from being like that, only Christianity will. My advice to anyone is that if your religion has not changed you, it is time to change your religion. You do that by changing teachers.
We need to know what it is that really matters, and we need to know who it is that is teaching us, but we also need to know …
3. WHICH COMMAND TO LISTEN TO
VERSE 14 tells us –
‘The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Paul is telling the Galatians that what really matters is not the law of the Bible, but the love of God. But if we dissect this verse a bit more, we will find something else that God is telling us. That is we are set free! We are set free from the rules of the Old Testament in as far as we are now bound in the love offered through Jesus Christ. And we are set free so that we can show the love of God to others around us.
Of course, the perfect example of freedom and of love is Jesus. He is the epitome of both freedom and love. He was only confined in a human body because He chose to lay aside His rights as God so He could show us His perfect love by going to the cross for our sakes.
MARK 10:45 says,
‘For even the Son of Man did come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.’
The word ‘Christian’ means ‘Christ – like’. If we are going to refer to ourselves as a Christian, then to be true to that calling, we must strive to be like Christ. It is in this that we find our freedom is expressed in serving one another. That is what we have been set free to do; serve in love.
In VERSE 13 of tonight’s text, it reads,
‘You, My brothers, were called to be free. But do not use you freedom to indulge the sinful nature, rather, serve one another in love.’
A good example of this is found in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. He tells them to give up eating food that has been sacrificed to idols. It wasn’t a sin to eat that food, but if it caused a problem with their brothers in Christ, they should give it up. That is love; when we sacrifice something we want or need so that others might benefit.
But this applies to each one of us here tonight, too. We have freedom in Christ to do many things, but sometimes, we need to NOT do them if a brother or sister has a problem with it. For instance, I have the freedom in Christ to wear jeans and a T-shirt when I preach, but I know that would cause some to be too distracted to listen to the message, so I cannot afford to dress that way – but it isn’t for my benefit that I dress this way, it is for another’s benefit.
Of course, when it gets really hot, it would distract some to see sweat pouring down my face as I preach, so as it gets hotter, the coat goes first followed by the tie, so it will be open short-sleeved shirt in the summer. But, you must remember that I do have the freedom to do that. (SMILE)
Would the Victory Singers please come back on stage?
And not only do we have the freedom to NOT do some things out of love, we have the freedom to DO some things out of love that we might not otherwise do. And that might cost us. It might cost us time, our energies, or even some of our money. Remember a few minutes ago when I said that every time you reach out in faith something will change? That is true. And it is true that every time you reach out in love, something will also change. And it will change for the glory of our God, and whoever is reaching out in love will be rewarded by God; in His way and in His time.
That is what is meant by being led of the Spirit, or by being in God’s will. Love: Life is not worth living without it. What about you tonight? Are you showing to others the love of Jesus from within your heart? Sometimes we might be going through a storm in our lives and find that the one thing we need most at that time is being shown the love of Jesus from others. The acceptance that nurtures our souls. That is what Christianity is all about. Do you feel that way tonight? Do you need love and acceptance? As we go into our time of invitation, if this describes you tonight, will you please come up here and let me stand with you?