Read Galatians 5
In Matthew’s gospel, we are introduced to a term called the yeast of the Pharisees. The disciples were in amphibious mode once again and took a boat ride with Jesus surely to land on a shore to teach and preach and who knew what else the Master had in store for them. They had forgotten to bring bread.
I know, you think out of 12 disciples somebody might have remembered to bring a lunch. But in fairness to the disciples, when you were following Jesus, you didn’t know if you were headed to a feast or into the wilderness. You didn’t know if the trip would take all day or if suddenly you might find yourself on the other shore.
In any case, they had forgotten to bring bread.
Jesus, not considering the trip across the water to be transportation only but a mobile classroom as well, warned his followers to be on the lookout for the yeast of the Pharisees.
I am speculating here but I’m confident that Jesus is thinking, “I nailed that metaphor. That was a good one.”
The disciples think, “O great. He’s going to make an issue of this whole bread thing. Let’s draw straws to see who is going to remind him that man does not live by bread alone.”
Jesus doesn’t get to enjoy his magic metaphor moment because he knows what his not so literary followers are thinking, so he breaks it down into fishermanspeak.
Jesus tells them directly: I am not talking about bread but about the junk food that the Pharisees are trying to feed you when I have fed you the truth. Don’t eat the junk.
Now let’s get back to Paul’s letter to the churches in Galatia. We are beginning the last third of this epistle and Paul has been trying to fit everything he can into his letter to bring these new believers back to the truth.
He says, I have been talking about freedom. In Christ we have freedom. Don’t be slaves to the law. We might be thinking, hasn’t he said enough already.
Now Paul is surely thinking, what else can I say, how can I phrase this, what can I say to help these fledgling believers understand the liberty that they already enjoy in Christ and the slavery that that these knucleheads, and there is likely a chief knucklehead in charge among them, are trying to sell.
The yeast of the Pharisees would have been a good metaphor but Paul had something else in mind to get their attention.
You were running a good race. Who cut you off?
Paul loves the race metaphor. Paul likes to encourage believers to press on towards the goal. The race metaphor would be just fine. You were running a good race. Who cut you off?
Paul does make general reference to a little yeast working through the whole batch of dough. It doesn’t take much falsehood to dilute and pollute the truth. Don’t consider yeast to be something bad. Jesus also used it to explain how the Kingdom of Heaven would grow.
Paul really wants to make sure he tackles his explanation on freedom and slavery from every angle and uses whatever examples, analogies, and literary tools he can muster.
It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life. Just make sure that you don’t use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom. Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love; that’s how freedom grows. For everything we know about God’s Word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself. That’s an act of true freedom. If you bite and ravage each other, watch out—in no time at all you will be annihilating each other, and where will your precious freedom be then?
Paul is not being callous and didactic; he’s not just directing arbitrary rules of his own. He understands the struggle. The Spirit and the flesh are not friends. They fight. They are at war and we are the battlefield.
You want to live by your human nature, then you will be drawn to the law, and you will always fall short. Our human nature tries to enslave us in this rule following business.
But our Spirit nature—our true nature in Christ—is not subject to the law. We live in freedom, not wondering if God still loves us or if our salvation is intact.
Just about every preacher who ventures through this scripture thinks of the story of the two wolves. I think I first heard it being credited to a Cherokee Chief. It is hard to know for sure where it originated. I’m sure if Paul had known it, there would have been 7 chapters in this letter.
An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.
“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”
The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”
Paul knows as he writes these Galatian believers that they too have a war raging inside of them. He so wants them to feed the Spirit that God placed there and let the sinful nature die. He would like to see our sinful human nature nailed to the cross and left there.
We need to understand that we are unique creatures. We are of the world—made of clay, of humus if you will. Our every sense was designed to navigate this carnal world.
But we are also creatures that became a living soul when God breathed life into us. We are not only creatures made out of the mud but ones that are full of God’s Spirit and made in his image.
We live in these jars of clay but we are full of God’s Spirit.
Paul did something that only the very best speakers and writers do consistently. He anticipated the needs and questions of those to whom he was writing. He thought through their possible responses and replies.
Paul understood that this was not going to be a rapid fire series of Facebook posts. He was not able to Facetime with the leaders of the church. He had to pack it all into this letter.
What did he anticipate?
His insight revealed the fact that the reaction of the Galatians to these new rules and requirements that others wanted to place on them was a natural thing, especially if you are left to your human nature.
It feels like I need to do “something” for my salvation. Now, if Tom had been writing this letter, he would have brought in Proverbs 3:5-6. Why? Because the people were leaning on their own understanding.
And that is understandable even today. We do it all the time today. We want “God stuff” to fit into our own understanding. It doesn’t always work that way.
Sometimes it is hard for us to understand the gift of grace and favor and the incredible love that we know in Christ Jesus. We say we do but our nature thinks we should do something—just a little even—to earn our salvation.
Paul is doing all that he can to keep these believers from adding any conditions to their salvation—no law, no sign in the flesh, and no mandatory feasts and festivals; but he knows the people want to do something. It’s natural.
So he says, here are some things that you can do that don’t bind you to the law. You can do them in response to God’s great love and not in hopes of earning it. These things will flow naturally out of you when the Spirit, not the flesh or the law, becomes your first nature.
These things will be your fruit: Love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control. We will leave for another day the discussion as to whether love is the umbrella over all of things or just the first among many outpourings of God’s Spirit that lives within us.
Paul goes on and reminds the Galatians and us that since we live by the Spirit, let’s get in step with the Spirit. Let’s not fight among ourselves or envy what another believer has, but let’s be the encouragers that God wants us to be and which by his Spirit that lives within us, he has equipped us to be.
Let’s produce some fruit.
Let me deal with a couple odd comments in the mix of some wonderful guidance. The first is Paul referring to those who continued to insist upon circumcision and his reply is just let them go all the way then and castrate themselves.
Here is your guidance on that one for the current century. Don’t try this at home. In the words of Forrest Gump, that’s all I’ve got to say about that. Well, not quite. Jesus was fan of using hyperbole. Who can blame Paul for the same thing? Granted Jesus limited his severing of body parts to eyes and hands, but remember that Paul is breaking out every literary tool he knows, and apparently it includes a little hyperbole.
The second talks about not inheriting the Kingdom of God and you might take this as losing your salvation. Paul is not writing to pagans. He is writing to believers so how do we reconcile this admonishment.
We do it in the context of Psalm 49 and in the context of what Jesus said about the Kingdom of God. The psalm is a proverb made into a riddle and then into a song that has at its heart, you can’t take it with you.
The psalmist declares that we don’t need to despair when wicked people seem to be getting over on the rest of the world. That temporary success is the only taste of heaven they will ever have. All of their rewards will have been claimed in this life.
We who believe and live by the Spirit may know the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven in the here and now as well as in all in fullness and surprise in the age to come.
Don’t let those sections keep you from the essence of this part of Paul’s letter to the Galatians and even to us.
We were reconciled to God by faith. The Spirit worked in us then and it continues to work in us now. Let the Spirit rule our lives. We don’t have to give in to our every natural urge. Let the Spirit rule.
How will I know that the Spirit and not my sinful nature has dominion over me? By my fruit, the first of which happens to be love.
We don’t produce fruit to impress others or earn our salvation. It is the natural outpouring of God’s Spirit living in us.
It is what we produce when our faith is lived out in love.
We may not be the best theologians in the country or even the county, but I think that we are running a good race of faith lived out in love.
We are running a good race of faith lived out in love. If we stay the course, eyes fixed on Jesus, nobody will have a chance to cut us off and the inevitable result will be the fruit of the Spirit.
So let’s run our race and produce the fruit of the Spirit.