For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love. You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion is not from him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view than mine, and the one who is troubling you will bear the penalty, whoever he is. But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed. I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!
For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another. (ESV)
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Tuesday of Lent 1
11 March 2014
A fruit tree planted where the roots absorb poison will inevitably produce bitter fruit. The tree may look beautiful and offer a lush crop to those who see it, but when the fruit is consumed it tastes bad and is noxious on the palate. All its beauty and fruitfulness is useless when the produce is bitter. So it is when the law forces fruit upon the tree of life. While the law itself is good and tells us that we must produce fruit in our lives as Christians, it has not the power to feed the crop it demands. While it may force fruit to bud and grow, it is noxious and bitter to the taste. The law can produce fruit but it is not the fruit that God seeks, or that is sweet to the taste. This gives us Christians a clue as to why it appears that unbelievers often produce more and more beautiful fruit in their lives than believers do. The law can force production. The tree of life can appear to be fruitful and attractive; lovely- and heavy with luscious-looking fruit, but it is bitter fruit indeed, if forced.
We all know that feeling when we require a child to do her chores, and all we get is a grudging effort to straighten up a cluttered room. Oh, yes, it may look clean and neat afterward, but the coercion necessary to affect the desired outcome makes it painful to us as parents. We would by far prefer a cheerful and freely offered effort toward completing household chores, even if imperfectly completed. That which is done in love has a greater value than that which appears to be done perfectly, but grudgingly. Love gives sweet fruit for love covers a multitude of sins (1Pt 4:8).
I grieve for the children who have been so publicly adopted by our modern "celebrities;" who claim to be giving orphans a good home by shutting them up in gilded palaces under the care of well-paid nannies, au pairs, and other domestic keepers. How magnificent it all looks, and how beautifully it is all portrayed by the fawning media toadies, who revel in this public piety. But what is there of love in this arrangement? Where love has been extracted from their lives all the stuff in the world will never get it back, no matter how lovely it all appears. It is ironic that the word "lovely" almost always modifies nouns that have nothing to do with love. A lovely life may well be loveless. This is bitter fruit indeed.
Good fruit comes from the connection to the true vine, who is Christ (Jn 15:5). Here is perfect love that flows through all we are and have. Sweet fruit arises from the sweetness of the Savior's love for us, His branches. Here the gospel produces and does all. The Lord Christ is the love of God incarnate and He is the one who works in us to will and to do of His good pleasure (Php 2:13).
Augustine of Hippo
"The oldness of the letter, in the absence of the newness of the spirit, instead of freeing us from sin, makes us guilty by the knowledge of sin. Therefore, it is written in another part of Scripture, 'He who increases knowledge increases sorrow' (Eccl 1:18), not that the law is itself evil, but because the commandment has its good in the demonstration of the letter, not in the assistance of the spirit. If this commandment is kept from the fear of punishment and not from the love of righteousness, it is slavishly kept, not freely, and so it is not kept at all. For no fruit is good which does not grow from the root of love. If, however, that faith is present which works by love (Gal 5:6), then one begins to delight in the law of God after the inward man (Rm 7:22), and this delight is the gift of the spirit, not of the letter; even though there is another law in our members still warring against the law of the mind, until the old state is changed, and passes into that newness which increases from day to day in the inner man, while the grace of God is liberating us from the body of this death through Jesus Christ our Lord."
Augustine, On the Spirit and the Letter, 1.26
Lord Jesus, You offered Yourself to Your Father for our sakes and in prefect love did all that was commanded. Forgive us for our grudging service to our Father and infuse us with Your love, that we might return the sacrifice of praise. Send us your animating Spirit that we might offer sweet fruit of faithful works to the world. Amen.
For Maren Tejeda, who is undergoing surgery today, that she would be kept safe and be granted a full and complete healing
For all those who serve in the armed forces of the nation, that they would be kept safe in their service and that we, who benefit from their service, would honor and respect them
For Joyce Backs, that she would be kept from all harm and would receive healing from her heavenly Father
For the family, friends, students, and colleagues of John Stanford, as they mourn his passing, that they might cast their cares into the gracious hands of a living Lord
Art: GRÜNEWALD, Matthias Isenheim Altarpiece (1515)
© Scott R. Murray, 2014