Summary: What a very old oak tree can teach us about communion in the church
Galatians 5:1, 13-25
1 For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
13 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. 14 For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." 15 If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another. 16 Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 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. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, 21 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. 22 By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.
Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
A few weeks ago I was standing on our parking lot with Vernace, Buddy and Norman; we were trying to make up our minds where to put the tent for our one-day revival. It was hot, and we wound up under the oak tree where I normally park. As we deliberated this pressing issue, Norman suddenly looked skyward and said, “Well, would’ya look at that tree limb.” Of course we all looked, and then had a 20 minute discussion on how the limbs of an oak tree could grow together.
Well, there’s actually a rather simple explanation; when a tree’s limbs grow close enough to each other to touch, the windy days on Bethany’s hill will cause the limbs to rub together- the bark will rub away, sap will run - and after the wind dies down, the hardened sap will permanently bond the limbs - for life.
And so, with all deference to Norman’s choice of words – we were looking not at “that tree limb” but at limbs – two distinct limbs that had quietly, but permanently, joined forces at some point in the past. This kind of “joining” is not without pain, but it most always yields profit; the tree gets stronger!
In some ways this is exactly how we must be in the church. In this passage, Paul uses very cautionary language that Heaven is in the balance, and we’ve been warned that we should choose our actions carefully when it comes to how we treat each other. The Apostle didn’t have a digital camera to snap us a picture, but the picture of his words clearly shows the “rub” that happens when the flesh and Spirit go to war.
Paul lists a whole shopping cart of attributes that belong to the flesh: fornication, impurity, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissension, envy, drunkenness and more. Standing in contrast is the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience and several others. Paul makes a very clear object lesson for us out of this comparison – he says “live by the Spirit; put the flesh to death”!
There is plenty of opportunity to see the friction that is available in human relationships. My daughter, Jennifer, once sent me a prayer she wrote:
“I pray for:
• Wisdom – to understand my man;
• Love – to forgive him;
• Patience – for his moods;
Because, Lord if I pray for Strength, I’ll beat him to death. Amen!”
There was a pastor who grew up in New York City. He couldn’t tell a cow from an ear of corn. Then he met a beautiful young girl from South Georgia; they married and moved to a small country church. The day of his first sermon, the city-bred preacher tried really hard to fit-in with his rural congregation – maybe too hard. With his precious young Georgia bride sitting in the front pew he began, “I never even saw a cow until I met my wife.”