13 September 2020 (Trinity Fourteenth Sunday Morning Prayer) Galatians 5:16-24
Today’s sermon is based on the epistle portion, St. Paul’s epistle to the Galatians, chapter 5, verses 16 to 24. In this passage, Paul describes the stark contrast between life according to the flesh and life according to the Spirit. The early church in Galatia was established based on Jesus’ principles. When the Jews accepted Jesus, they continued to follow the Old Testament Laws and Jesus’s teachings. They insisted the early church had to follow the Old Testament laws like circumcision. The early church’s attempt to attain spiritual perfection by keeping the law ended in failure. Paul wrote this epistle to uplift the early Galatian church and to encourage them to walk in the spirit rather than flesh. We can hear different kinds of argument about the Laws and Commandments. Let us meditate about God’s covenant and commandments.
Who gave the commandment to whom and why?
We know that God separated Abram from his family and asked him to follow Him. Abram did not know about the LORD God but he simply obeyed Him. LORD God changed Abram’s name when he was 99 years old to Abraham. He became the father of nations. We read about the new covenant God made with Abraham in Genesis 17. God asked Abraham to circumcise the foreskin flesh of the boy children on the eighth day. He said it shall be a token of the covenant between Abraham and God. God promised Abraham that His covenant shall be in Abraham’s flesh for an everlasting covenant. Abraham was 99 years old when he and Ishmael his son were circumcised. All the men of Abraham’s house, born in the house and bought with money of the stranger were circumcised with him. This is the first circumcision in the Bible.
From this passage, we understand that the commandment was first given to Abraham’s descendants. Circumcision differentiated them from other people and gave them the meaning of ‘The ones who are separated for God’. The law or commandment about circumcision was given to Abraham, his descendants and those living in their houses. It was not given to the other people. In Exodus chapter 4 we read that Moses’s son was not circumcised and the Lord met him and sought to kill him. But Moses’s wife circumcised her son and saved his life. Zipporah was Abraham’s descendent and had to circumcise her son.
In Exodus 12:48&49, God gave the circumcision law to the Israelites through Moses before celebrating the Passover. In Joshua 5:2 we read that the Lord told Joshua to circumcise again the children of Israel the second time before entering to Canaan. God commanded circumcision as the sign of purification and separation for God. Later, it became a ritual to the Israelites. When the Gospel of Jesus Christ was preached to the nations, Jews also accepted Jesus Christ as their personal saviour. But when they turned to Jesus, they brought with them their rituals and insisted that the gentiles follow the laws and commandments given through Moses.
Old Testament laws and the New Covenant
Most of the Christian believers are in confusion about the Old Testament laws. There are many debates about the Old Covenant based on the commandments and the New Covenant given by our saviour Jesus Christ. We who are the chosen people should know about both the covenants.
The first commandment given to the chosen people was circumcision. The law was given to Abraham’s descendants and their families. When they were in captivity, we read in Exodus 12 that the LORD God gave them the law for celebrating ‘The LORD’s Passover’. Sanctifying the firstborn was the next commandment given to the Israelites. When they came into the wilderness of Sinai, God gave them the Ten Commandments through Moses. We read this in Exodus 20. We read the other laws for day-to-day life God gave in Exodus 21. Theologians believe that there are nearly 613 commandments given in Thora. When the Israelites came out of their bondage land and when they were on their way to the promised land, God gave them the commandments. In our church language, God gave them the constitution, canons and bylaws.
Many theologians say that we are nor under these Old Testament laws. This is because they were not given to us who are living in the New Testament period. We know that Jesus Christ fulfilled the Old Testament laws on the cross and made a new covenant with us. If we are under New Testament law, should we follow Ten Commandments and the other laws given through Moses? Did Jesus teach us not to follow the Old Testament laws?
Although the Old Testament laws are many in number, we can divide the laws and commandments into two groups as primary and secondary commandments. The primary commandments are the Ten Commandments. The secondary commandments are the laws applicable to our day-to-day lives. We must follow the Ten commandments to inherit the eternal life and the other commandments in our day-to-day life. The secondary commandments are based on tit for tat concept. The ten commandments say ‘Do not murder’. In Exodus chapter 21 verses 12, 23-25 we read about the immediate reward in the Old Testament laws. People had to offer sacrifices for the remission of their sins. Committing sin and offering sacrifices was a continuous practice during Old Testament period. But sacrifices and offerings could not help the people to inherit eternal life. We cannot see the love and grace of God in the Old Testament laws.
The Almighty Father loved the world and wanted to save the whole world. So He “gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life”. The New Testament law and covenant is based on this. Jesus Christ came into this world and fulfilled all the Old Testament laws and commandments. On the eighth day, He was circumcised.
Before Jesus, the kingdom of heaven was open only to the twelve tribes of Israel. After Jesus, the Gospel was taken to the whole world. Jesus was very much mindful about His Father’s will and the new covenant is based on the Father’s love. John 1:17 says, “the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ”. Exodus 34:6 says, “The Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth”. John 1:14 says, “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth”. Verse 16 says, “of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace”. The Old Testament’s ‘tit for tat’ commandments were replaced by ‘grace for grace’. The Old Testament laws could not save people and give them salvation. We have received salvation through the grace of our LORD and Saviour Jesus Christ. As said in Acts 15:11, “We believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved”. The Old Testament people offered sacrifices for the remission of their sins. But as we read in Romans 3:24, we are “being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus”.
Based these verses we know that Jesus added the Father’s love and grace to the Old Testament laws to give us the new covenant. It is not right to say that Jesus Christ demolished the Old Testament laws. Jesus said in Matthew 5:17, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil”. Jesus fulfilled the laws and commandments on the cross and made a new covenant with us.
Consolidating the Primary commandments
In Matthew 22:37-40 Jesus consolidated the Ten Commandments. The first four commandments are consolidated in the first and great commandment. That is, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind”. When we love our God with all our heart, soul and mind, we will aim to please God in all possible ways and the first four commandments will be fulfilled. The same way, Jesus consolidated the next six commandments and framed the second New Testament law. That is, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”. When we love our neighbours and others as ourselves, we will follow the next six commandments. You must have noticed that we break in the fourth law to say our response when we read the commandments during Holy Communion service. This could be one of the reasons. Paul also said in Galatians 5:14 “all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself”. Jesus said in conclusion, “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
What about the Secondary commandments?
The secondary commandments say tit for tat. For example, the Old Testament law said that the one who commit adultery is sin and should be stoned. But Jesus said in Matthew 5:28, “whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart”. The law of grace and love in the New Testament is more stringent than the Old Testament laws. Jesus came and fulfilled the Old Testament laws. He added God’s grace and love to the commandments to save us all from eternal death.
Coming back to our reading, Paul said in Galatians 5 verse 18, “if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law”. In Isaiah 30: 21, we read about the Holy Spirit that guides us. In John 16:13 we read that the Spirit of truth will guide us into all truth. The Spirit then leads us to live a life that bears the fruits of the Spirit which are love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance.
Let us self-examine ourselves. Are we willing to be led by the Holy Spirit? Being led by the Holy Spirit, are we willing to crucify the worldly things on the cross? Are we willing to bear the fruits of the Spirit? As said in Joel 2:13, let us rend our hearts and turn to God. Let us undergo spiritual circumcision under the law of grace. Let us follow the two commandments on which hang all the law and the prophets. Let us bear the fruits of the spirit so our lives are different from others. Jesus Christ died on the Cross to save us. We are called to live our lives following the Holy Spirit’s guidance. Romans 8:14 says “as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.” We can be the children of God only if we are led by the Holy Spirit. I pray we are led by the Spirit to be children of God and inherit eternal life in the kingdom of heaven with Jesus Christ. Amen!