Summary: We live in an instant world, where we do not tolerate having to wait. But patience is hope in action. The first part of the sermon backs up to grace.
Patience – Hope in Action: Fruit of the Spirit/Advent #1
Gal 5:16-26 November 28, 2004
I debated about beginning this message with the following prayer: “Dear Lord, I pray that you would give each person in our church, except for me and my family, many many opportunities to learn how to be patient…”
We have been looking at the fruit of the Spirit in Gal 5, and today, on the first Sunday of Advent, we consider the character quality of patience. It is not one we like, or we want to pursue. It doesn’t make us feel good, like kindness and gentleness and goodness. Patience is about how we deal with the things that are not good – how we handle delay, waiting, frustration, trying circumstances and thwarted opportunities. It is not a characteristic we want to have, but one we need to have in order to handle the challenging parts of life.
But perhaps we should back up even one step further. We’ve been in this one passage for several weeks, and so I took a step back and read the whole book of Galatians – sounds impressive, but it really only took about 15 minutes – and I want to pass along a little more of the context and background..
I’ve been reminding us all each week that this list of character qualities –or fruits – are about God producing and creating, not about our effort. It is about grace. That is a theme that is even more significant in the rest of Galatians. Paul was writing into a situation where the group of Christians were getting caught up in something that was way too familiar and close to home – image vs. substance. A group of people in the church had gotten diverted from caring about what God thought about them, and become fixated on what others thought of them.
Galatians 1 says, “6I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel-- 7which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ… (cont) 10Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.” In chapter 2, Paul tells the story about how even Peter, the impulsive disciple, had gotten sidetracked and started to worry about what certain people thought of his image (2:11-16) – Paul calls Peter a hypocrite and called him back to worrying about what God thought and not what man thought. He hits hard again in chapter 3: “3Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?”
Paul’s point, in all of this and in the bulk of the rest of the letter, is simply this: the good news is that God has offered us grace and forgiveness, and has set us free. There is nothing we can do to earn our salvation, and to even think about doing something to make ourselves worthy is to make a mockery of God’s incredible gift. We are free in Jesus, God’s grace has been given, and all we can do is accept that grace, believe in that grace, and then live not to please men but to please God, live out of a love response to that gift, as we walk with the Spirit and live in the Spirit. It is not by human effort, but by God’s grace.
Since it is the first Sunday of Advent, we are starting to prepare for Christmas, let’s think about it this way. Imagine yourself as a parent, feeling a deep love for your child and wanting to express that. So you save, sacrifice deeply, and then splurge on a good gift which you know will be loved. Imagine then that Christmas morning comes, and your child opens this wonderful, meaningful, life-giving gift. They are deeply moved, deeply appreciative. They know the value, they know the cost, they know that you have sacrificed and given a great gift because of your love. So then this child looks at you and says this: “By my calculation, this gift is worth $100 000. I don’t think I can pay for it, but I am going to try. I can do 10 hours of chores a week, and if you will agree that each hour is worth $10, that is $100 a week. It will take me 1 000 weeks, almost 20 years, to pay off the principle – and if you want to charge me interest it will be a lot longer than that. But because I appreciate the gift, I promise to do my best to pay you back completely.”