October 14, 2012

Harvesting Peace and Harmony

Preacher: Randy Smith Series: Galatians Scripture: Galatians 6:11–18


Harvesting Peace and Harmony

Galatians 6:11-18
Sunday, October 14, 2012
Pastor Randy Smith

Last week we were introduced to the concept of sowing and reaping. We discussed the biblical truth that whatever we sow, we will reap. Or put another way, I can't expect to reap what I desire unless I sow the right choices followed up by the right actions.

This universal law of God is true in the physical realm. We know that if a man smokes two packs of cigarettes a day, odds are he will do significant damage to his body with age. Yet if a man cares for himself through the proper diet and exercise, he will reap the benefits as he ages. Now there are exceptions. We all want to talk about the smoker who lived to be 110 and the Olympic athlete who died of a heart attack at 25. Yet the rule in most cases is true. What you sow is what you will reap.

The spiritual realm is no different. For example, if you are unfaithful to bring up your children in the Word, profess Christ but live as a hypocrite in their presence, and show up for church when it's convenient, don't come crying to me confused as to why your children have abandoned the faith as soon as they are given the opportunity. What you sow is what you will reap. Are you sowing in such a way in your child's life that will plant seeds toward the greatest spiritual harvest?

Another example - more specific this time: A guy comes to me off the street for counseling because his life is in complete shambles. We'll call him Sammy. Sammy is addicted to alcohol. His wife kicked him out of the house because he steals from the family and displays actions of violence. He has difficulty finding anyone that will hire him. He lost his license as a result of a recent DUI and is awaiting a possible jail term. Sammy knocks on Pastor Randy's door expecting Pastor Randy to fix his predicament. How much can I do? Sure I can speak of the forgiveness available in Christ. Sure I can tell him if he is a Christian that God's grace is sufficient for his situation. Sure I can help him restore his broken relationships. Sure I can give him strategies for better decision making in the future.

But none of these are what Sammy desires. He wants me (or God) to remove all the consequences from his poor decisions. I call it "pixie dust" counseling. Sammy has nowhere else to turn, so he thinks I have the "magic wand" to fix all his problems. Sammy will walk away from my office disappointed. Sammy is reaping the seeds he has sown! Once we sow the crop, it is too late to turn back the hands of time.

There are either blessings or consequences for our decisions as we follow or ignore God's Word. This is God's way of running His universe. Verse 7, "Do not be deceived, God is not mocked."

That is why it is important in life to strongly consider the type of harvest we desire to reap, and then after looking forward in time, begin right now in the present sowing the appropriate seeds toward that harvest. What is most important in life? Are you sowing seeds right now that will reap the greatest blessings toward that harvest? And there is no harvest better than that which glorifies Jesus Christ. Choose Christ by living in accordance to His Word now!

Paul is about to close this wonderful letter to the Galatians. In verse 11 he says, "See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand." Up until this point he has been dictating to a scribe. Now he personally picks up the pen and closes the epistle out with large letters. Some say it was because of his poor eyesight (Gal. 4:13-15). I personally believe it was because he wanted to highlight and underscore his final comments. And his final comments are a final plea for his readers (and us as well) to sow the seeds that will bring God the greatest glory and them the greatest joy.

Two ways of living will be contrasted this morning. There is the one that will bring heartache and agony - the way of the world. And there is one that will result in, verse 16, "peace and mercy" - the way of God. So as we conclude this epistle this morning, let's examine how we can obtain the best harvest.

Let's begin…

1. The Folly and the Flesh

We have learned in chapter 5 that all believers can walk in either the flesh or the Spirit. We have learned how to put aside the flesh and walk in the Spirit. We have learned the awful deeds produced by the flesh and the beautiful fruits produced by the Spirit. Last week in chapter 6, verse 8, we learned that we are urged to avoid sowing to the flesh which leads to a harvest of "corruption," but encouraged to sow seeds to the Spirit which leads to a harvest of "eternal life." And I mentioned to you that I believe Paul's use of eternal life refers to all the blessedness we inherit when we come to Jesus Christ. It is the joy and peace and contentment regardless of our circumstances that we can obtain only through the Holy Spirit. It is what Paul referred to in 1 Timothy 6:19 as "life indeed." It is what Jesus said when He promised His followers "abundant...life" (Jn. 10:10).

But those who walk in the flesh will never experience this dimension of eternal life. This may be unbelievers or even backsliding believers, either way, they refuse to abide in Jesus and allow the Spirit to lead and control their lives. Such was the predicament of the Judaizers. Remember them? - The false teachers that Paul spends most of this letter attacking. In these final verses Paul holds these Judaizers up as an example of professing Christians (who were not saved - Gal. 1:8-9) who walk in the flesh. Their error is seen in two ways: They wish to (and I borrow this from John Piper) "avoid pokes" and "win strokes." Though our situations are different, these are the same two reasons that people today walk in the flesh and sow seeds to the flesh only to forfeit the blessings of eternal life.

First, they want to "avoid pokes." In verse 12 Paul says, "Those who desire to make a good showing in the flesh try to compel you to be circumcised, simply so that they will not be persecuted for the cross of Christ."

We have spent much time over the past few months analyzing the Judaizers' desire to see the Galatian converts circumcised. Paul taught the free grace that is offered in Christ alone. The Judaizers argued for Jesus plus works, namely circumcision. Now at the end of the letter, Paul reveals their motivation for their teaching. It was so that they might "not be persecuted for the cross of Christ."

Here is how it works. Nowadays it does not take much. Almost any belief can be taught and oftentimes even respected by others in the world. We like to applaud diversity and differing opinions and tolerance. But the moment you mention the true Gospel that salvation is found only in Jesus Christ, Paul is calling that the message of the cross, is the moment that you are bound to be cremated by others. You can sleep around more, drink more, curse more, gossip more, spend more and be applauded by the world. You can support almost any cause from breast cancer to gay rights and be applauded by the world. But the moment you preach Jesus Christ crucified, the message of the cross, forget about it! So what's so bad about the cross?

We'll keep this within the context of the letter…

To the Romans the cross was an instrument of death (involving torture and mockery) reserved for the vilest offenders. The nature of the execution was so severe that even Roman citizens were not permitted to be crucified. To identify with Jesus was to identify with a heinous criminal and an enemy of Rome.

To the Jews the cross symbolized rejection from God. Anyone hung on a tree was accursed. To identify with Jesus was to identify with God's enemies and often resulted in excommunication from one's family and synagogue.

And to natural man the cross represented our utter sinfulness and inability to attain God's favor based upon our own merit. To preach Jesus crucified means my sins in God's sight deserve a hell far worse than the agony of the most brutal Roman death sentence. It means I am accursed by God and the only hope I have is if Someone innocent would stand in my place and take my curse upon Himself to purchase my forgiveness. The cross represents death to pride, and natural man wants no part of that!

Paul put it this way in 5:11, "But I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why am I still persecuted? Then the stumbling block of the cross has been abolished." The Judaizers wanted to "avoid pokes," persecution from others, so they preached a man-friendly message. In fear, 6:12, of "persecution" they didn't preach "the cross of Christ."

So one way that we sow to the flesh is in all of our efforts to avoid persecution from the world - keeping silent when we should speak, softening the truth, changing the message, apologizing for righteousness. Yet we must all know that the fear of man will always bring a snare (Pro. 29:25). Jesus promised us persecution if we live for Him (Jn. 15:20). Are we boldly sowing seeds for Him or fearfully sowing seeds to the flesh?

Another way we can sow seeds to the flesh is to "gain strokes." Or we can say to gain the world's approval rather than God's approval. Still rebuking the Judaizers, now in verse 13, Paul says, "For those who are circumcised do not even keep the Law themselves, but they desire to have you circumcised so that they may boast in your flesh." The second motive for sharing their false Gospel is now revealed. They didn't care about the Law. They weren't interested in following the rest of what Moses taught. The Judaizers simply wanted to look good in the eyes of others. They wanted the praise of man.

Very often, that which the world applauds is distasteful in the eyes of God, and that which God applauds is distasteful in the eyes of the world.

The Bible Study I led at the Middle School where I taught often learned this lesson the hard way. Most of the clubs would pick up a few students here and there, but this Bible Study, which met at 6:45 in the morning, had roughly 40 teens attending. It was led by people who received no money for their efforts. And we were not permitted to use the school PA system for promotion. Yet did we receive the admiration from the staff? The librarian collected requests for magazines to be on hand. We submitted requests, but the magazines never appeared on the display. The woman in charge of the school newsletter was begging for activities to be published from any club. We wrote articles but they were censored from the publication. We did service projects for the school and never received any appreciation. Not only were we maligned, questioned and ridiculed, but I can't recall one teacher from outside of the faith ever having a kind word for the voluntary sacrifice of several adults, but also the quality of students the club was producing. As we closed each Thursday morning I would frequently say, "I send you out now as sheep among wolves."

Don't expect the world's congratulations when you sow seeds to the Spirit!

If you don't believe me, here's a test you can try with your coworkers tomorrow morning. Speak about any accomplishment your child has received - academics, athletics, arts, whatever! And unless they deem you as an obnoxious braggart, most people will congratulate you on your child's success. Then wait a week and speak to those same people about your child's spiritual accomplishments - believer's baptism, Bible memorization, family worship success, faithful Youth Group attendance, greater love for Jesus Christ, whatever! I promise you that in most cases you will not receive any genuine support.

Because of our pride, we oftentimes desire the approval of man over the approval of God. And when we do so, we will always be sowing seeds to the flesh no different than these Judaizers.

2. The Superiority of the Spirit

Let's move to the second point, "The Superiority of the Spirit."

So those who live in the flesh seek to avoid, minimize and twist the teaching of the cross to "avoid pokes" and "win strokes." Those in the Spirit do just the opposite. Those who sow seeds to the Spirit imitate Paul in verse 14 and say, "May it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ." Paul was not ashamed of the cross - he boasted in the cross!

I find it interesting that Paul did not use the term that we often employ when we speak of the cross: "faith" (and we use it in kind of a passive sense). Paul took it to another level. I'm sure almost all of us in the room would profess faith in the cross. We would freely acknowledge the fact that the cross represents our hope that Jesus took upon Himself the full penalty of our sins. The cross to all of us means forgiveness and reconciliation and hope.

But how many of us in this room could be found, as Paul said, "boasting" in the cross? Think about that! When is the last time through your words or actions, others, especially unbelievers, have witnessed you boasting in the cross? I'm sure we have boasted in many other things, from our politicians' success to our personal accomplishments. But can we agree with Paul? Can we say as he did in verse 14, "May it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ." I'm guilty! Do you see how Paul has drawn such clear sides? We are either in the flesh or the Spirit, or we are boasting in ourselves or boasting in the cross. There is a blur today, but biblically speaking it is one or the other. Try boasting in yourself and the cross simultaneously - impossible!

I mean if anyone could boast especially of spiritual accomplishments, it would have been the apostle Paul! As he said in Philippians 3, "Circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless. But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith" (Phil. 3:5-9).

So what gave Paul such a passion to live sold out for Christ. The entirety of verse 14, "But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world."

The world as it is used by Paul in this case is not the people or the physical planet, but the system of unrighteousness that opposes the kingdom of God. Paul rightly understood the cross as the barrier between him and the world. He knew the world would never look at him the same, and he knew he would never look at the world the same either. I suppose if you know the evil world system hates you and you hate the evil world system, it makes it much easier to sow seeds to the Spirit. And I suppose that if you can rejoice with this separation, that you find it much easier to boast only in the cross that created the separation (Gal. 6:14).

Are you beginning to see that there are only two sides? Either we can sow seeds to the world and reap corruption and God's disapproval, as verse 8 teaches, or we can sow seeds to the Spirit and reap eternal life and God's favor as verse 8 also teaches. Both God and the world will not permit people to walk both sides of the fence. Which side are you on? Do you want misery and heartache or do you want, verse 16, "peace and mercy?"

Have you through the cross made a complete break with the world? Do you accept the fact that Christians are, verse 16, a "new creation?" Do you sow seeds to the Spirit? Do you boast only in the cross? This is the only way you will experience, verse 18, "the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ" - the fullness of eternal life.

This was Paul's heart. In verse 17 he said, "From now on let no one cause trouble for me, for I bear on my body the brand-marks of Jesus." It was his great love for Jesus and the purity of the one and only Gospel that motivated Paul to write Galatians. He was emotionally grieved that his coverts were deserting Christ for a false Gospel. But in his passion to serve Christ, unlike the Judaizers, he faced his share of persecution. We read in the Bible how he was stoned and whipped and beaten with rods. The false teachers wanted to boast in their circumcisions, Paul boasts in his own wounds.

In antiquity it was common to brand a mark on a slave. Paul frequently referred to himself as a slave of Jesus Christ (Rom. 1:1; Gal. 1:10; Tit. 1:1). His scars gave evidence of his allegiance. They showed the world who his true Master was. Thankfully our persecution today is much different. Can people tell who your true Master is?

So as the title indicates are you harvesting peace and mercy? It is impossible if you are living to "avoid pokes" or "gain strokes" from the world. Understand your position in Christ. You have been crucified to the world and the world has been crucified to you. Boast in nothing but the cross. Most likely that will mean ridicule and rejection for the Calvary Road is a place of spitting, jeering and laughing. Painful indeed, but avoiding persecution and looking for the praise of man the Bible calls "corruption" (Gal. 6:8), a more painful road to follow. Sow seeds to the Spirit, and as you do you will gain God's praise and deep down inside experience the true joy and peace that can only come in dying to the world and being alive in Jesus Christ. As Paul said in 2:20, "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me."

other sermons in this series

Oct 7


Sowing and Reaping

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: Galatians 6:6–10 Series: Galatians

Sep 23


The Spirit-Filled Church

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: Galatians 6:1–5 Series: Galatians

Sep 16


Crucified Yet Deadly

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: Galatians 5:24 Series: Galatians