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Friday, July 7, 2017

Whose Body Is It?


This is an extremely difficult subject, while at the same time being an extremely easy subject. There were Jewish converts in Galatia who were teaching that salvation was possible only for those who kept the Old Testament laws. Using circumcision as an example of a clear command of God, their argument was that in order to be a “real” Christian, one must keep all of the Law. Paul's answer, although it takes five chapters of argument, is basically that we are free of the Law ... we're free of it!


In the chapter before us today, Paul says that as soon as you say you must keep one law, then you are required to keep all the laws. You can't pick and choose: 
     Well, I'm not going to insist that Christians keep the law regarding circumcision, but I am going to insist they keep the law regarding murder; or, 
     it's OK to eat pork from now on, but you cannot commit adultery; or, 
     you can do some things every day of the week, but on Sundays ... you can't! 

Paul says that if we are going to insist on keeping some of the laws, then we have to keep ALL the laws.

This has led Paul to ask earlier (3:19):

Why, then, was the law given at all? 

To which he gives the answer:

 ... the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith.  Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.

We no longer need the law ... which leads to the highpoint of his argument:

 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 ... You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free.

When I envisaged this topic a few months ago I had in mind running through all our body parts as they are mentioned in the Scriptures and talking about what you can and can't do with them, ... how to use them properly, your tongue, your eyes, your feet ... but I realise now that sounded too much like the those in Galatia who wanted to have rules about everything, especially rules we can lift from the Bible, .... but Paul says that when we do this, we alienate ourselves from Christ.

As I thought about what to say, I had a powerful sense that God was saying: "Just tell them that their bodies are mine and the best way to use them is to walk in step with my Spirit." To help me, He led me to this Scripture from 1 Cor 6:19-20

Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honour God with your bodies.

Our bodies are ... God's. Once again we find a manifestation of what it means to be in partnership with God. It's my body, but, it's for Him. You and I partner with God in the use of our bodies. We are now temples for God, and if we go to the Law we'll see a whole lot of laws that relate to the Temple, purity laws and holiness laws ... only ... we are free of those laws, aren't we?

So how do I live if I don't have any rules? How do I live if I'm free of the 638 laws/rules given to Moses to give to the people? from our reading, Paul says:

So I say, live by the Spirit, ... if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

Live by the Spirit. It's that simple. Paul says we don't need any laws if we live by the Spirit and let Him guide us.

Then Paul makes it even easier for us by teaching us how we can know when we are living by the Spirit and when we are living by the flesh: as long as the Spirit guides and shapes us, we will see the fruit of the Spirit in ourselves and in our fellowship. It's that simple!

It’s so simple that we will be tempted to think that Paul is living in fairy land by suggesting such a reality.

 A church (which remember is always people, not buildings) guided by Paul’s hopeful word will be a place of flexibility and freedom, of excitement and anticipation, living with an openness to the unpredictable, liberating movement of God’s Spirit. It’s a wonderful vision... a church living under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. It's a vision that, as we saw in our evening series on the Acts of the Apostles, drove the early church; it's the vision that drove John Wesley out of the church, breaking the rules that surrounded the preaching of the gospel, and into the fields to preach to the masses, giving rise to the Evangelical Revival and preventing, as Lance reminded us last week, a French style revolution in 18th century England. It's the vision that drove the Spirit-led African American church during the civil rights movement and it's the vision that drove Archbishop Desmond Tutu in his resistance to apartheid and now, in his resistance to the government of so called liberation.

Let the Spirit guide and shape us and who knows what He will do ... forget self, forget personal agendas, embrace the Spirit and God's agenda ... this is the vision Paul places before the Body of Christ.

But is Paul right? Can we really trust the Spirit to guide us and to guide the fellowship here, or is Paul’s vision of the church an ideal that cannot stand up to our tests of human experience? Is it, therefore—as Paul’s adversaries charged—a prescription for disaster?

Everyone knows that there are dangers in freedom. We see that right back in the beginning when freedom was abused and gave rise to sin. Paul himself saw the abuse of freedom in the Corinthian church as they claimed to live and walk in the Spirit, and we've all seen or heard of churches that throw away rules and traditions and seek to live in pure spiritual spontaneity. Some of us have even seen people hurt in situations like these. But this needn't be, because Paul tells us what we will see when freedom is abused in the body and the flesh is allowed to rule:

The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.

It's all quite simple: if you see sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery in the Body, you know the flesh is ruling and the Spirit is not; if, in the Body, you see discord, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, if you see these things in an individual or in the church, you know the flesh is ruling and the Spirit is not. And too often in church history, in past centuries and past weeks, these things happen and we come to accept as the norm. We see discord, fits of rage, dissensions, factions and we carry on as if this is acceptable. It is not ... these things are a sure sign that flesh and not Spirit is in control.

Can the church really be led by the Spirit or can we as humans only try our best?

Our answer to this question will depend upon whether we believe in the real presence and activity of the Holy Spirit in our midst. Do you? Only an individual, and only a church that knows and encourages the presence of the Spirit in this way can regard Paul’s advice as believable. When Paul counsels the Galatians to keep in step with the Spirit, he is not thinking of the Spirit as a theological "idea"; rather, he is thinking of the Spirit as the active presence of God in the midst of the Body of Christ, the church; in our midst, here at Meadow Way here and now; in each body that makes up this body called Meadow Way.

So, Whose Body Is It? ... by now hopefully you've realised that I'm talking about our human bodies, but also this part of the body of Christ which is called Meadow Way Chapel. Whose body is it? It is Christ's. Your body belongs to Christ; MWC belongs to Christ, not to us as a fellowship, not to the Elders, not to any particular person. This is Christ's body! If we think it is ours then we are led by the flesh, then, says Paul, we can expect among other things 

 ... discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions ...

These things cannot happen in a body which is led by the Spirit and when we see them we must recognise them for what they are ... works of the flesh and there should be no room for them in the Body of Christ or, in your body and mine. Conversely, when we are led by the Spirit, we can expect

 love, joy, peace, patience, etc

What does Christ see as He looks at us as individuals .... what does He see as He looks at us as a fellowship? 

Keep in step with the Spirit.

How do we avoid the flesh ruling in our midst?

The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

The way we avoid giving the Flesh a base of operations is by becoming servants of one another, through love. That is what Paul calls his readers to do. The freedom won by Christ for us must be used as Christ used His freedom. He loved. The answer to fleshly rivalry is self-emptying love. It is such love that should govern our relations to one another as we partner with each other and with God in the service of His kingdom.

I said this was an easy and a difficult subject. The easy part is plain and simply that our bodies and the body here at Meadow Way belong to Christ and we don't need rules or laws to function properly as Christians and as a Christian church, we only need the Holy Spirit. It's that easy!!! Desire Him, hunger and thirst for Him, pray for Him, go on being filled by Him and let Him rule in you.


The difficult part is believing that this is true and then living as if this is true.

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