Tag Archives: selfishness

Preserving Freedom

Paul has argued through Galatians against a group who wanted to impose full Jewish Law and practice on those who became believers in Jesus from outside the Jewish community. He insists that faith, and not obeying the detailed instructions of the Old Testament Law, is what makes a person free and right with God.

It might sound very remote in the twenty first century, if it were not for the difficulty we have today as Christians understanding how Christian life is supposed to work. “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Clearly it would be terrible, having escaped from the life of a slave, to be returned to it again. But what is Christian freedom, and how is it to be used, and indeed preserved?

Today’s reading (Galatians 5:1 and 13-25) jumps from that verse to explain the difference between a selfish life, dominated by the indulgence of human appetites, and a free life powered and directed by the Holy Spirit. We have become expert at justifying what we want, having our own way, and imposing on others – yet know that this seldom ends well. What we have to learn is how thankfulness for a life set free can lead us to love and serve, and to cultivate the “fruit of the Spirit”. These are gifts we cannot obtain by self-discipline, but that God will develop in us as we allow them to grow.

Freedom can be lost! When Paul sounds as if he speaks from experience, we can echo his concerns. “Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other. ” This leads back to the selfish life, enslaved by human desires. The alternative? “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.”

Attitude

There is a comment on the gospel for Lent 6c titledFailure and Success” here.

“The attitude you should have is the one that Christ Jesus had:” – says Paul. (In today’s reading from Philippians 2:5-14). Having heard an account of the Passion, it strikes home even harder. This is our pattern, our example. this is the route that has been pioneered for us, and left for us to follow.

Scholars suggest that Paul was adopting a hymn here. It makes no difference, for whatever follows “The attitude you should have is the one that Christ Jesus had:” is going to be a hard act to follow. There is also a question whether Paul was tactfully skating round failures in the leadership at Philippi. Were relationships there not so good? was there disunity, boasting, ambition and selfishness? Again, the answer is not essential to our understanding. Churches are not perfect – each is a congregation of sinners. But we need to know where we are heading, and what we are supposed to imitate, how we are to work towards our goals. Again

“The attitude you should have is the one that Christ Jesus had:”

This Holy Week we have more opportunities than any other week in the year. Of course it is easy to see how things can go wrong. Of course we can see many other patterns of leadership and service. But we are committed to this difficult example. Think again:

“The attitude you should have is the one that Christ Jesus had:”

Stand firm

(Philippians 3:17-4:1) “Hold fast!” – “Stand firm!” it sounds a bit like a battle, and so it is. You can see that in the gospel reading today (Luke 13:31-35), as Jesus refuses distraction in the work he has to do before he goes to Jerusalem to die. Paul’s words to the Philippians sound less military, but. .

“Keep on imitating me” Paul says. We might prefer “Keep on imitating Jesus”. But, then as now, many don’t know Jesus to follow, and look to us to see something of him. It’s a big responsibility – we know we fail, but that is part of it. How to fail, repent, and go on – that is very important.

“For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ” What a strange way of putting it! (We’re back to the battle) Doesn’t he mean enemies of Christ? Perhaps, but as he explains in verse 19, we see he means not only a selfish life, in opposition to Jesus teaching; but also the complete opposite of his example. Jesus gave, they take.

The enemies of Christ’s death on the cross live for themselves: food, drink, money, sex, comfort, ambition, power, ME and mine.

“Their end is destruction” – “They are going to end up in hell” – Paul’s words, but pretty blunt. We might say its a “dead end”; but we need to take seriously the consequences of going that way. There has to be an alternative, and there is.

“But our citizenship is in heaven” Simple, yet important. This – this world, this job, this text – isn’t where we have to succeed, or fail. Jesus death on the cross opens up for us a new horizon. He found reason to live for us and give for us, even to the extent of that death. As we learn to follow, we find more important things than ME and mine. God’s love is worth more than a promotion; serving with his people is worth more than comfort or power.

We don’t find it easy to teach children to share – toys, or parents, or anything else. We don’t find it easy to teach Christians, even when they say they are committed to being disciples of Jesus, that their lives must follow a different Way to the rest of the world. A better Way, but one which involves discipline and sacrifice to achieve more wonderful things on earth, and in heaven, our place as Citizens of Jesus Kingdom. It’s not just that there are one or two things we don’t do, and some little habits (like prayer and services) we add on. The Christian Way is a whole attitude to life, sometimes difficult and demanding, but worth everything.

Paul was close to the Christians in Philippi – but even there he had to remind them about Christian behaviour, and the need to “stand firm in the Lord”

Standing firm, but in the Lord, not in unchanging tradition. Philippi was a Roman colony – they would understand about being citizens of somewhere else, and the benefits of that. But being citizens of heaven was something they needed to go on learning – as we do.

Who’s in Charge?

“Who’s in Charge?”  We ask it of politicians, of community leaders – of all sorts of people.  In today’s gospel, (Matthew 21:23-32)  Jesus authority is questioned. We might guess that the authorities are offended by his lack of authorisation — he was not a rabbi, in the sense of having been recognised and ordained. So, finding him teaching in the Temple, they ask “How dare you!” – or rather “What right have you?”

Jesus answers with a question – a common thing at the time. “What authority did John the Baptist have?” It seems a simple question, but verses 25 & 26 show their problem, and they answer “We do not know”. (Perhaps meaning “We think he was a fraud, but haven’t the courage to say so”).

It is not just a debating trick. If the questioners cannot tell the difference between a man of God and a trickster, then they have shown that they are incompetent. If they are not prepared to tell the people what they think is the truth, they cannot lead. So they are not capable of judging Jesus.  Jesus has the authority of God himself, shown by his words and actions. The chief priests and elders, by their inability to recognise John the Baptist, have shown they have no spiritual discernment, no real authority.

It’s tempting to stop there, to say that Jesus has shown the opposition to be rubbish, and won his way out of a difficult situation.  That might miss the point. How many of us are still asking “Who’s in Charge?”.  The answer is not the legitimacy of some official, but our obedience to God, our discipleship.  The inner child is always ready to protest “You can’t make me, it’s my life, I’ll do, or not do, what I want”. What has authority over us – over me? Ambition, desire, selfishness, laziness, pride,.. or is my life a Christian life, where Jesus not only has the right to tell me what to do (and how, and when), but that right is accepted, signed up to, and even celebrated?

We went on the the parable of the two sons. One says yes, and does nothing. The other thinks better of his refusal, and goes and does the work his father has directed him to.  Who’s in charge? Who tells me what to do? Who has the right? There is a theoretical answer – Jesus who created me and gave his life to gain my freedom – but it is not a matter of getting the words right. It means doing the work, using the energy, sorting out the pride, giving the money, sharing the possessions, and not stopping.

Jesus is a hard act to follow.

He asks a great deal.

He has the right.