What is the role of love in the Christian life? In 1 John, we repeatedly see love as an indicator of new birth and new life. But what kind of love is the Christian to display? To whom is this love to be directed? This love is to be sacrificial, but how much sacrifice is enough? These are good questions, but maybe they are the wrong questions. Maybe the question should instead be one of focus. Where is our focus in the Christian life and is our object of focus producing Christlike love? John deals with these questions and so does Paul. For our midweek devotion let’s look to Paul’s treatment in Galatians 5.
Wednesday, February 26
Larger Portion of Scripture - Galatians 5
Focused Passage for Reflection - Galatians 5:6
Reflecting on the Text:
What does freedom mean to you? Does freedom mean release from an oppressive rule or ruler? Does freedom mean release to go and do whatever you want without regard for authority or the need for affirmation? Or, might freedom mean the release to go and live out your true identity as a child of God, freed from the bondage of sin and from the oppressive demands of self-justification?
Paul tells us that “for freedom Christ has set us free.” What a wonderfully saying! But what does it mean? This search for freedom can take us in a variety of vastly different directions. Fortunately, though, Paul narrows the search. In his defense of the gospel and his war against those who would add to it, Paul gives us a glimpse of the life of freedom in Galatians 5:6: “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.”
“Circumcision” in Galatians (and in most of Paul’s writing) represents those who would attempt to add to the finished work of Jesus by including ceremonial observation of the law as a prerequisite for justification before God. Alternatively, “uncircumcision” in this verse might represent those who overreact to freedom by throwing out any semblance of obedience or gospel transformation. As opposed to these extremes, Paul tells us that Christian freedom is lived out horizontally as “faith working through love.”
Some of us hear this and are encouraged. For some, however, it just leads to more questions. We want to know how to love, and how much to love. How much sacrifice is enough to qualify as sacrificial love? We want to know where the path is and how to set up appropriate guard rails so we don't divert from it. But Paul’s focus in Galatians 5 seems to be less on the guard rails and more on the Guide.
In v. 16 he says “walk by the Spirit.” In v. 25 he writes, “If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.” This walking by the Spirit speaks to the focus in our lives. So often, even in our love of others, our focus is less on the others whom we are trying to love and more on ourselves and the quality/quantity of love we are expressing. Rather than focusing outward, our love can far too often be guided by our own self concerns. Are we doing enough? Are we doing so much that it hurts us? All the while, we miss the true goal of love: caring for others and conveying the love of Christ.
Rather than self-focus, Paul tells us to keep our focus on Christ. Walk the path of love with the Spirit of Christ as our guide. With Him as our focus, the guard rails of excess and neglect are less of an issue because we actually begin to take on the likeness of the One who has become our focal point. And when this happens, true Spiritual fruit is born out in our lives. So no surprise, in his famous verse describing the fruit of the Spirit (v. 22), love takes the top billing. With all of these fruits of the Spirit as a promised outflow of the gospel, I invite you to join me in endeavoring to live less in fear of the abuse, and more after the pattern of our Guide.
Questions for personal reflection:
In what ways do you tend to focus more on yourself than on the person you are seeking to love?
In what ways do you tend to focus more on yourself than on the Savior whom you are seeking to love?
In what ways does this passage encourage you to walk by the Spirit?