Love Suffers and Serves
Summary: True love suffers for others instead of asking others to suffer for us.
I have three reasons for doing a vow renewal today. The first is: it’s Valentine’s Day, on a Sunday. That doesn’t happen very often, so let’s do something. Not every year, but this year seemed to fit.
Second, I think it’s good for us to be reminded of what marriage is – a commitment to stick with, stand by, and support one another through whatever life brings our way. Right now, we’re living through the kind of stuff that tests our commitments. So, it’s good for us, all of us, to be reminded of the covenants we’ve made, and that we made them publically, declaring in front of God and these witnesses that we are going to do this, and do it this way – blending personal diligence with dependence on God to get through whatever life brings our way, for better or worse, in sickness or in health.
The third reason for a vow renewal today is that it fits so well with the text as we finish up the book of Galatians and look at what it really means to be committed to the good of someone else. We’re going to have do some work to get there, but if you can stick with me, we’ll end this morning by considering what it means to love.
Remember, Galatians is written to Christians with no Jewish background, they had no idea who Moses was, or King David, or Abraham. But they heard the gospel – the good news that Jesus Christ had come to save sinners and transform lives – and they responded.
They repented. They said, “Yes, God, change my life. Wipe away all the junk: all my pride, my anger, my lust, my self-centeredness, my anxious worrying about whether or not I’m good enough or whether I’ll ever make it – wipe all of that away and teach me a new way to live. Give me new habits, new patterns, new goals and values. Give me new seeds to plant that will produce new things in my life instead of the old mess.”
And God did. He forgave them, and they were born-again – there was a real spiritual transformation. They went from being separated from God to being adopted by God. They were suddenly and irrevocably, filled with the Spirit of God. They saw, experienced, and felt things that had never happened before.
But then they started hearing other voices – other people who said, ‘Hey, if you’re interested in God, you need to follow all the religious rules and rituals He gave through Moses. You need to become a good Jew. After all, Jesus was Jewish you know? And the first step, is to be circumcised.’
Well, Paul, who had been the first to preach the gospel to them found out what was happening and wrote this letter to say no, it’s not true. You don’t need to add anything to Jesus, you just receive from Him and then walk in the Spirit. It’s an important message and one that he has been working hard to communicate. And so, we read:
Galatians 6:11 See with what large letters I have written to you with my own hand! 12 As many as desire to make a good showing in the flesh, these would compel you to be circumcised, only that they may not suffer persecution for the cross of Christ. 13 For not even those who are circumcised keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh.
Have you ever been caught between two groups of friends? You know, you may one group of friends in your neighborhood, the people you play with or hang out with because they’re there, they’re around, and then you have another group of friends at school, and they might be different people. You might have one group of friends on your team, or in your club or activity, or online and another group of friends at church. You might have a group of friends at work. And these groups don’t necessarily blend. In fact, you might be somewhat embarrassed by one group if the other group found out you hang out with those people too.
Some people feel this way about family – we look at our parents, our siblings, or even our spouse, and we think or say, “Oh please, don’t embarrass me in front of my friends!”
We’re not proud of it, but’s happened, hasn’t it? We want to be accepted by this group of people, so we need that group of people, or that person in my life, to just lay low, keep a low profile, or… become more like this other group I hang out with.
Well, oddly enough, that kind of social pressure is exactly what was driving the problems in Galatia. In this case, a group of Zealous Jews were at the top of the social ladder. They were the cool kids with the fancy clothes and the trendy haircuts who knew all the right words and phrases and ways to speak – they were the ones who said what was cool now, and what wasn’t cool anymore. They were the gatekeepers of social clout.
So, when some of the Jews heard the gospel and began to follow Jesus, they still wanted to stay connected to the cool crowd. They wanted all their Zealous Jewish friends to still be cool with them, even though they were following Jesus. So, they tried to make it all fit – they tried to be in both groups at the same time.
And, as you know, you can deviate a little bit from a larger group and still be considered part of it, so long as you don’t stand out too much. After all the Jewish Christians still had a lot in common with the Zealous Jews who didn’t accept Jesus – they were related ethnically, they spoke the same language, grew up with the same holidays, they had even been circumcised. So, following Jesus seemed like it might be able to fit in with everything else.
But what happens when someone who has never been Jewish starts following Jesus? Now, if you’re a Jewish Christian, there’s pressure building. At some point you’re either going to have to leave your Zealous Jewish friends to hang out with your non-Jewish Christian friends, or you have to get your non-Jewish Christian friends to become more Jewish. You can’t be in both places at once, and you feel pressure to lean more toward one group than the other.
That’s exactly what was happening in Galatia. Look at verse 12 – the Jewish Christians wanted to make a good showing in the flesh – they wanted to still be cool with all their Zealous Jewish friends and neighbors, so they told the non-Jewish Christians, “You need to be more like us.” Which really meant you need to be more like them, the Zealous cool kids. “So look, here’s what you need to do – take this knife, and cut yourself, right there.”
I don’t know if you really need me to say this, but this is not a good way to be a friend! Especially because, again, look at verse 12: these would compel you to be circumcised, only that they may not suffer persecution for the cross of Christ.
Here’s what these Jewish Christians were doing. They were telling the non-Jewish Galatian Christians, you should be like us, so we fit in with the Zealous Jews, who are following the law of Moses, as a way of pleasing God.
The problem was, as Paul points out, the zealous cool kids weren’t actually following the law of Moses because it was nearly impossible, so they made up their own rules – modifying what God had said to make it more attainable and then feeling good about the things they had done. Notice verse 13 For not even those who are circumcised keep the law.
It’s like the person who buys a piece of exercise equipment and doesn’t use it very often, but feels good because they have it. Or the person who buys the art supplies, or craft supplies, or tools that they’re going to use one day to build a masterpiece, but they never quite get around to the project. It’s OK though, because you have the stuff and that makes you feel better, because now you’re a different kind of person in your own mind, you’re one of the cool kids who has the stuff.
It was the same thing with circumcision – it was something you could do, and then you could feel good about yourself, there was something you could point to, to show you were serious. Now you could be part of the club, you were as cool as the cool kids.
And that’s exactly what the Jewish Christians were after – they wanted to show their Zealous Jewish friends that their non-Jewish Galatian friends were cool too – (vs 13. Cont) they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh.
Now, I keep talking about these Jewish Christians who wanted their non-Jewish Galatian friends to change. But there was another Jewish Christian who saw things differently, and that’s Paul. Remember, he was Jewish, 100%, through and through, and he had all the really cool kid credentials. He was circumcised, he came from a cool family, went to a cool school, had a bunch of cool connections in the capitol city, people knew his name.
But he had given it all up for the sake of following Jesus. He said:
Galatians 6:14 But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation.
Paul had come to realize that you were never going to be able to keep all the religious rules and perform all the rituals required by the law, and he understood that’s why Jesus came – to fulfill all that stuff for us.
So now he says, there’s no need for circumcision or anything else that you have to do to impress God. The chain of acceptance has been radically trimmed. The only thing that needs to be between you and God, is Jesus.
16 And as many as walk according to this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.
Notice that little phrase – as many as walk according to this rule. We’ve been talking about walking in the flesh vs walking in the Spirit which leads to producing the works of the flesh or the fruit of the Spirit. And now we see that walking this way will lead to peace and mercy for you, from God.
And then he says something else very important here – he says, anyone who walks this way, walking in the Spirit, following after Jesus, is the true Israel of God.
You can be ethnically Jewish and not follow God. But if you come to Him through Christ and walk in the Spirit, then you are the true meaning of Israel, regardless of where you grew up, who your parents are, or what language you speak. Relationship with God is determined by Christ and nothing else
In fact, as we have said at other places in our study – the law was always meant to point people to Christ. So, if you were an Old Testament Jew, you were looking forward to the day when God would provide the true sacrifice that all your personal sacrifices pointed toward, and if you placed your hope in what God would do one day, instead of what you were doing right now, you were saved.
All people, Jews and non-Jews, throughout history, before and after Jesus have been saved the exact same way – by placing their faith, hope, and trust in God. Before Jesus came they looked forward to what God would do, and now since He has come, we look back on what has happened. But everyone who is saved is saved the same way – by trusting in what God would do for us, not in what we have done for Him.
And then Paul says:
17 From now on let no one trouble me, for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus. 18 Brethren, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.
It took us a while because we had to set the stage, but now we’re here and I can show you why all of this connected to Valentine’s Day for me – it’s the love we see displayed in Paul compared to the self interest shown by a group of Jewish Christians who were trying to impress their friends and neighbors, and way the Galatians were caught between the two.
The Jewish Christians were asking the Galatians to do something that would make them look good to the Zealous Jews. But how does that make you feel if you’re the non-Jewish Galatians? Used. Doesn’t it?
But isn’t that what so many relationships are like today? People use people to make themselves feel good. We use people to help advance our careers. We try to become friends with the right people so others will know we’re cool, or so at least, we can tell ourselves we have a place to belong. We use boyfriends and girlfriends to make us feel wanted and needed, or to affirm ourselves. We use our parents, or our job, or our credit, to get stuff so we’ll feel better about ourselves because we don’t have peace, we’re not able to rest – we keep looking for approval, acceptance, affirmation or belonging.
Paul said the Jewish Christians were using the Galatians, compel[ing] you to be circumcised, only that they may not suffer persecution for the cross of Christ.
In other words, if you look good, then they’ll look good, and everything will be fine, but if you don’t do what they’re asking, then their other friends are going to give them a hard time. It’s not really about you, at the end of the day, it’s all about them.
How many people are using you to advance their own interests? Probably every tech company in existence – if you haven’t seen the movie the Social Dilemma you you really to need to, it explains a lot of things about why the world and technology are they way they are.
But what about your human-to-human relationships? What about the people you call friends, or even family – who is using you to protect themselves or benefit themselves? Who is asking you to do things, buy things, wear things, say things, asking you to conform, to be like them, so they’ll look good?
Compare that with Paul. He isn’t drawing people to himself; he’s pointing everyone directly to Jesus where they can find grace, peace, and mercy.
Notice that he says, 17 From now on let no one trouble me, for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.
Paul is willing to suffer for the Galatians. The Jewish Christians are asking the Galatians to suffer for them. Who do you think really loves the Galatians?
Who really loves you? Who do you really love? And, what does that love look like?
The Jewish Christians want their Galatian friends to mark their bodies with circumcision; Paul says I’ve been marked in my body for you.
He’s probably talking about the actual scars and chronic pain he carries from being beaten and wounded in his efforts to spread the gospel – to tell others of the love and acceptance they can find in Christ.
Christ Jesus, who gave His life for us. Who was beaten and crucified and buried for the sake of our sins. He didn’t tell us to fix the problem ourselves, He didn’t tell us how to be cool enough to impress the Father and find acceptance. We never could. And so, He came and suffered for us. That’s love.
It’s not, “Do this for me.” It’s, “Let me do that for you.” Let me initiate. Let me serve. Let me help, you.
True love bears marks for others before it ever asks them to bear marks for us. That’s what Jesus has done, and it’s what we should be doing for each other. True love is more about giving than receiving. And that means it’s going to hurt at times. Look at how much it hurt Jesus. And how much it still hurts Him. Look at how much, and how often, God reaches out in love and how rarely He gets the response He deserves.
Don’t be shocked when you love and give and reach out and you don’t get an immediate response. It may come days or years later. Or it may never come.
Don’t be shocked when you’re asked to love and love and love as you’re stretched more and more and more, as you’re asked to do more and persist with endurance. You’re barely scratching the surface of the length, and the depth and the breadth of the love of God.
Don’t be shocked when the people you loved so much wander off listening to other voices –we’re prone wander too. But God is patient and persistent with us. He’s the Father waiting for the Prodigal Son to come home, and the shepherd who went out searching for the lost.
And that’s why I always include a little reminder in my wedding ceremonies – it’s good for married couples, but it applies to all of our other relationships as well:
if your love for each other ever feels smaller than it does right now, if you ever lack the strength to keep these vows, consider the love God has shown toward each of you and ask Him to help you reflect that love to each other.
For, it is only as we consider what God has already done for us that we are enabled to love someone else with a love that, like His, initiates, forgives, and makes sacrifices.