Are you a rule-follower or a law-breaker?
Sometimes following the rules is difficult. Take a look at this video, and you’ll see what I mean:
Would it surprise you to hear me say that you God wants you to be rule-breakers? In fact, you need to be a rule-breaker to enter the Kingdom of God. How so? Keep reading, and during this week’s five-part blog series, we’ll find out.
Our next blog series is on the Fruit of the Spirit. It seemed the natural next step after Ezekiel’s vision of the river flowing from the temple, creating flourishing and fruit-bearing trees, which we learned this past week here.
The Fruit of the Spirit is in found in the New Testament book of Galatians chapter 5:22-23, and it is a list of qualities, actions and choices that will flow from our lives when we are walking in step with the Spirit. During the Fruit of the Spirit series we spend one week per topic: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness and Self-control.
But the list of the Fruit of the Spirit is found in just two verses that are part a larger discussion about the kind of life we will live when we are walking in step with the Spirit. We read about walking in step with the Spirit in the surrounding verses, Galatians 5:16-26. It’s important that we understand how the Fruit of the Spirit fits in that larger discussion of walking in step with the Spirit, so I planned on having an introductory week of posts to talk about that context. I was going to start that week of posts today, but now I’m not.
I am delaying that one month because we have a variety of special weeks coming up. Next week we have another current events series of post. The week after that, Clint Watkins will be with us to talk about lament. Then the next week is Palm Sunday and of course the following week is Easter Sunday.
In other words, if we had the first Fruit of the Spirit blog series this week, then it would be another five weeks until we had the next one. So instead, this week we’re going to have a kind of intro to the intro. Maybe you could call it a prequel to learn what Galatians is all about, and how that leads to why the author of Galatians talks about the Fruit of the Spirit. Let’s dive in. Turn to Galatians 1, verse 1.
Verse 1 begins: “Paul, an apostle.” Ancient letter writers did not start with “Dear John.” We are used to starting letters or emails by addressing the person we’re writing to. Not so in the ancient world. 2000 years ago in the Greco-Roman era, people started letters by declaring their own name, the name of the person doing the writing. In this case, Paul. But who was Paul?
Jump ahead to Galatians 1 verse 13. He shares his story. Read verses 13-17. What Paul is saying is that he used to be a Jewish religious leader in Jerusalem. He was all-in, a member of the Pharisees, which were the people Jesus often tussled with.
A few years after Jesus returned to heaven, and as his new church was growing, Paul was right there on the front lines leading the Pharisees’ battle against the Christians who the Pharisees believed were a cult to be destroyed. But God intervened and saved Paul. From that point forward, with the same vigorous energy that Paul once used to persecute Christians, he now passionately tried to convince people to become Christians.
As Paul’s story in Acts continues, we read that his ministry was primarily to non-Jews in the Roman Empire. Paul was a missionary, traveling thousands of miles over land and sea, starting churches wherever he went. That’s why he calls himself an apostle. An apostle is an entrepreneur, venturing into new areas and starting new ministry. Paul was also a letter-writer, using that technology to stay in touch with and disciple the people in the churches. Usually, he wrote letters when he got wind of a problem in a church.
That is exactly what led to the letter called Galatians. Look at verse 2, and you see that this letter is to the churches in Galatia. So not just one church, Paul was writing many churches. And those churches were not in a city. Galatia was a region.
Why was he writing to the churches in Galatia? Well, that is the big question we’re trying to answer this week. To answer that, first we need to answer, “When did he write this letter?” It is very likely that Galatians was one of the earliest New Testament writings. That means this church is young. Maybe 5 years old. They were also very young in their faith.
If we started a new church in Lancaster, most likely the launch group would be people who have deep roots in the faith. Not these Galatian Christians. Many of them had a thorough Roman or Greek religious background. They didn’t grow up believing in and following Jesus. There were likely some Jews in the churches who had at least a Jewish background. But as we will see, that too, became an issue.
Paul is writing because he heard something about these new Christians that really concerned him. Previously on one of his missionary journeys, Paul went to Galatia and taught about who Jesus was, about Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection, and how Jesus was the way, the truth and the life. We call that the story of the Gospel, the story of good news about Jesus. When Paul preached the gospel in the region of Galatian, people turned to Jesus, believed in him, and gave their lives to follow him.
But in a short period of time, things changed.
Check back to the next post, and we’ll learn about that.