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"Sow to Please the Spirit, Reap a Good Harvest"

Feb.7/16 Galatians 5:13-6:10


This past week I was emailed by the daughter of my former neighbour, from the road in Hibbert Township where I grew up. Her father is turning 60 soon and she was trying to assemble some stories from former friends and acquaintances for the occasion. The main one I recalled unfortunately only highlights my own selfishness.

There was a time I'd been quite sick, I'm not sure what from. I was beginning to convalesce when "M" came over - their farm was kitty-corner to ours - and he brought a box of comic books for me to read while I was recuperating. Very kind! However, my response was not so kind. I was just so keen to start reading those comic books, I was prepared to risk rudeness to get my way. Before very long I came right out and asked him, "Can you go home now?" What a way to show appreciation to someone who's done a thoughtful deed and shared resources with you!

Perhaps I'm an exception - perhaps I'm the only one who's ever said such a selfish, conceited, rude, self-serving thing to a friend. But maybe not. Perhaps you've had your selfish moments too. Your unChristlike moments. In today's passage, the Apostle Paul points us in the direction of how to let our faith express itself in love rather than being continually focused on our own wants and desires.


You will recall Paul is writing to the churches in Galatia in response to bad teaching that's been propagated by the so-called Judaizers or "circumcision party". They held that to really be acceptable to God, you needed "Jesus PLUS" something else: obedience to the Jewish dietary and ritual laws, including circumcision. Paul insisted that the RITUALS were not the REALITY.

Basically, he's saying, if you're going to rely on the law and your good deeds to get you to heaven, you have no need of Christ's substitutionary atonement on your behalf. And, by the way, you're not going to make it! No one can keep the law perfectly. Galatians 5:2 "Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all." There is no room for God's GRACE to come into play if we're trying to do it all on our own. 5:4 "You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace." The word "alienated" here means to be severed or separated from Christ. If we're trying to do it on our own, it's as if we're saying, "I don't NEED You!" to Jesus - we discount the value of what He did at the cross.

In contrast to law-keeping, Paul highlighted the way of love - the love he perceived had been poured out at Golgotha. This divine love and letting it have effect in our lives, becoming embodied in us, was where it's "really at". Gal 5:6 "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love." The only thing that counts - what's most important - is faith finding expression, outworking, through love.

Law-keeping ensnares us in what Paul calls in v1 "a yoke of slavery". All through the letter he's been emphasizing the freedom Christians enjoy. But this freedom is channelled or directed by love, else the same freedom could result in people running hog-wild and giving in to their bases desires. Paul echoes Jesus' teaching about what's most important in life in 5:13f: "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 neighbour as yourself.""

Christian freedom asks, "How can I make myself available to show God's love and care to those around me? God has blessed me with gifts and abilities; what opportunities await my giving expression to love by serving others?"

Many religions of the world are about keeping the rules, the laws, trying to appease some deity or court their favour. Christianity is not about being "religious" so much as about having a RELATIONSHIP. Not about laws, but LOVING. The new redeemed person Jesus is shaping me into - how do I live into that in my dealings with others?

The next chapter has a verse that echoes Paul's earlier statement: 6:15 "Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation." What really counts, what ultimately means something in the light of eternity, is not RITUAL but the reality of being a NEW CREATION, alive in Christ. As Paul said back in 2:20, "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me." Trusting in Christ, we are made new people, with His Spirit inside, eager to display God's love practically to others.


Not that it's easy to be loving. We are still very much "enfleshed" beings. We have all kinds of desires, and sometimes people get in the way of us getting what we want. When my neighbour brought over the comic books, my desire to read overruled my social etiquette.

A relative on Facebook was complaining about how expensive it was to take their dog for a shampoo. Not that the shampoo itself was expensive: the problem is, while she was waiting for her pet to get finished, she browsed some stores nearby. She ended up buying 3 blouses and 2 scented candles. Not that she originally intended to buy any of those things! She was just taking her dog to the pet grooming place. But in the interim, her cravings got the better of her.

Our cravings can have deadly consequences. The Tim Bosma trial is trying to get to the bottom of how come he was killed when people came to look at the truck he had for sale. A life was snuffed out over a hunk of metal, because someone wanted something and took it - Bosma's life just got in the way.

In verses 16 to 24 of Galatians 5, the focus is clearly on these competing cravings within us, the "tug-of-war" of desires between our carnal nature - the fallen part of us, not just the biological drives of our material component, but also our soulish desires - the tug-of-war or "duel" (if you will) between our sinful nature and God's Spirit within us. Listen for the "tug-of-war" of desires or cravings in 5:16f: "So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want." Also v24, "Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires."

These desires, passions, cravings can manifest themselves in a long list of what Paul terms "the acts of the sinful nature" or "deeds of the flesh" in vv19-21: "The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God." You can have the CRAVINGS or you can have the KINGDOM - but not both!

For an exercise, let's classify these "deeds of the flesh" as the "I WANT'S". We can go through and fill in the blank for what each act represents. Starting with "sexual immorality" - I WANT - what? "I want orgasm - the big O - to get off physically, have fullest sexual expression." This is NOT about creating a loving stable home environment in which to raise a family! Neither is it about helping your committed lifelong mate meet their sexual needs. Sexual immorality is about USING another person to gratify my own selfish sexual desires, get my "high" - whether it be heterosexual, homosexual, however. And the fallout from broken hearts and disease from "one night stands" is horrendous.

Next in Paul's list is "impurity" - that could be stated, "I want - arousal." Whether through lewd behaviour or lustful looks.

Third, "debauchery" - "I want feelings." "Idolatry" - "I want to be boss, to determine 'god' my own way rather than as He reveals Himself." "Witchcraft" - "I want POWER, even if its source is evil, so I can manipulate others." "Hatred": "I want others dead." (Well, that's how you feel when you hate someone, isn't it?) "Discord" - "I want to win the argument." "Jealousy" - "I want what THEY'RE getting" (be it affection, attention, whatever). "Fits of rage" - "I want to be feared, to intimidate you by my volume and face and gestures." "Selfish ambition" - "I want my own goals." "Dissensions" - "I want everyone to think like ME." "Factions" - "I want to be part of the IN crowd." "Envy" - "I want their STUFF!" "Drunkenness" - "I want to get high, to swim away in a chemically-induced euphoric state." "Orgies" - "I want to get wasted." Maybe you can find better words for specific deeds - but you catch my overall drift, the "acts of the flesh" are deeply rooted as "I WANTs".

In v24, Paul contrasts these CRAVINGS with the CROSS. "Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires." A deliberate and intentional putting to death of the flesh with those sinful desires. It's rooted at the spiritual level, becoming immersed into Christ's death along with Him. Paul adds later in 6:14, "May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world." Crucify those cravings.

As we identify with Jesus, His dying and giving His life for us, we are freed up from the need to pursue and achieve selfish goals in order to "be someone". His love assures us we are already ENOUGH in Him! We can do without those short-term ephemeral highs - that drop us like a hangover the morning after - because we have something BETTER, something eternal. Trusting in Jesus we "inherit the Kingdom of God" (5:21), we "live by the Spirit" (5:16), we "reap eternal life" (6:8). The Spirit inside us bubbles up in an overflow that pours out and counters the "I wants".

Paul lists the "I overflows" in 5:22-23, what we call the passage listing "the fruit of the Spirit: "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law." No law needed because those are all things that BENEFIT others with whom we're in relationship, rather than suck life out of them. We don't manufacture those things inside ourselves: they're a surplus originating from a secret source deep within us, the Holy Spirit - whom Jesus received from the Father and "poured out" as Peter explained it at Pentecost (Acts 2:33).


Paul's "application" section of his epistle, from 5:25 to 6:10, again contrasts the fallen self-centred life, gravitating to the sinful nature, with regenerate life, which aims to please God and finds fulfilment in helping others instead of self-gratification.

Self-preoccupation leads to an inflated ego and abrasive relationships. 5:26 "Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other." There was an old story about two snakes that got in a fight and swallowed each other up!

The word "conceited" in the Greek literally means "eager for empty glory". Bible in Basic English renders it "full of self-glory". Does anyone in the American presidential race spring to mind, perchance? Life Application Bible comments, "Those who go out of their way to secure honours or to win popularity with a lot of people become conceited and show they are not following the Holy Spirit's leading." Ouch!

Paul offers another glimpse at the self-preoccupied person in 6:3, "If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself." Some irony here - "he is tricked by himself"! (BBE) New Living Translation, clearly a paraphrase, adds a complete sentence to drive the point home: "If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself.YOU ARE NOT THAT IMPORTANT." Some days - if you're like me - you need to get off your high horse and read that to yourself. "You are not that important." Quit trying to impress others and make like you're some kind of big shot. Instead, remember who you are in Christ - that HE's the "Someone Special". And learn to say with Paul in 1Cor 15:10, "By the grace of God I am what I am" - and let it go at that. His grace is remaking me, redeeming me, with His kindness and goodness and gentleness and patience and self-control - someone who's EVER so much nicer to be around!

Gal 6:7f "Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction..." What are we sowing to, planting to, investing our time and energy in? Is it our own selfish whims? Are we "turning our nose up" at God? (A literal rendering of "mocked" in v7.) Planting THAT reaps "destruction", Paul says - like decaying food. The self-focused life STINKS in the long run.

The alternative? You can reap something better, if you plant differently! Vv8b-9 "...the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up." Sow to please the Spirit: reap eternal life; reap a harvest.

Several verses in chapter 6 point out the MUTUALITY of the Spirit-led life, there's a SHARED focus involving fellow believers. V1 - if someone wanders off-track and gets caught in a sin (probably not talking about wilful sin here but an unwitting goof-up), get a spiritually-mature buddy and help RESTORE him (a word meaning to "make fit" as in mending a net). V2, most explicitly - "Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ." Wow! CHRIST's 'law'? Better pay attention to that! Echoes His "new command" to love one another (Jn 13:34) - "Carry each other's burdens", "share each other's burdens" (NLT).

What's that look like, practically speaking? It can be as simple as praying for someone when they've got a test or a physical exam or are ill. It can be a gift to help pay an unexpected bill. It can be showing up with tools in hand to help tear up their basement floor when it's been flooded. It can be a wordless hug in the visitation line before a funeral. Often the most touching and appreciated gestures are not all that hard - they just come at the right time, when most needed.

You may wonder how v5 ties in which says, "Each one should carry his own load." Two different words here. The "burden" of v2 is likely more along the lines of trial or suffering, whereas "load" in v5 is more about responsibility. God calls us to look after our personal affairs well, with maturity and discipline, as responsible individuals; yet the unforeseen and extraordinary "burdens" of v2 present opportunities for the wider Body of Christ to pitch in, come alongside, and make God's love tangible by practical caring.

"Let's not become weary in doing good," Paul exhorts in v9; a harvest will be reaped eventually. Not like the instant gratification that sin offers, with negative long-term outcomes like hangovers and STDs. Jesus promised even a cup of cold water given in His name will not lose its reward (Mt 10:42). Paul concludes in 6:10, "Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers." DO GOOD. Let God's grace soaking your spirit overflow in positive actions to others as opportunity presents itself - especially to fellow Christians in the church, but also to those outside.


Sowing to please the Holy Spirit and sharing loving ministry in partnership with other believers helps stave off selfishness, conceit, pride - which tends to lead to "provoking and envying each other". Remembering the Cross - that Jesus gave Himself for me, a sinner - helps innoculate against what one might call "The Disease of Me".

Basketball coach Pat Riley in his book The Winner Within tells about the 1980 World Championship Los Angeles Lakers. They won the NBA Championship that year, and they were recognized as the best basketball team in the world. They began their 1980-81 season considered likely to win back-to-back championships. But within weeks of the season opener, Magic Johnson tore a cartilage in his knee, and he needed a three-month recuperation period. The team and the fans rallied, and the remaining players played their hearts out. They determined to make it through that period without losing their rankings They were winning 70% of their games when the time began to draw near for Magic Johnson to return to action.

As his return grew closer, the publicity surrounding him increased. During time-outs at the games, the public address announcer would always say, "And don't forget to mark your calendars for February 27th.Magic Johnson returns to the lineup of your World Champion Los Angeles Lakers!" During that announcement, the other players would look up and curse. They'd say, "We're winning now. What's so great about February 27th?" As the day approached, fewer and fewer things were written or said about the players who were putting out so much effort. All the media attention was focused on the one player who hadn't been doing a thing. Finally the 27th came, and as they clicked through the turnstiles every one of the 17,500 ticket holders was handed a button that said, "The Magic Is Back!" At least fifty press photographers crowded onto the floor while the players were introduced. Normally only the starters were introduced, and Magic Johnson was going to be on the bench when the game began. But he was nevertheless included in the introductions. At the mention of his name, the arena rocked with a standing ovation. Flashbulbs went off like popcorn. Magic Johnson was like a returning god to the crowd that night.

Meanwhile the other players, who'd carried the team for 3 months and been totally ignored, were seething with jealousy, resentment, anger, and envy. They were so resentful that they barely won the game that night against a bottom-of-the-bucket team, and eventually the morale of the entire team collapsed. The players turned on each other. The coach was fired. And they eventually lost their opening game of the play-offs, having one of the most disastrous records ever.

Coach Riley writes, "Because of greed, pettiness, and resentment, we executed one of the fastest falls from grace in NBA history.It was the Disease of Me."

Let's pray.