There are a lot of stories in the Christian tradition about what happened to the Apostles after Jesus’ ascension. The most colorful is probably the one about Peter being crucified upside down by the Roman Emperor Nero because he felt he was unworthy to die in the same way as Christ. It’s certainly a powerful story, but it’s not the one that most captures my imagination. I’m most fascinated by the stories about the Apostles travels after Jesus’ ministry and the spread of the Gospel.
According to Christian tradition, Andrew traveled all the way to modern-day Russia carrying the Gospel to the people who lived there. He’s often recognized as the most important saint in the Russian Orthodox church. There’s also the story of Thomas who was said to travel India. Even today, two thousand years later, there is a strain of Indian Christianity, called the Mar Thoma Church, that traces its lineage to Thomas’ missionary journey.
Today we travel all over the world and do so at speeds that would boggle the minds of everyone in recorded history. That was not the case for disciples in the first century. In first century Judea, it was probably a rare journey that took them further than Jerusalem. For reference, the distance from Nazareth to Jerusalem was about 90 miles. When your world has been that small for your entire life, how much of a risk is it to travel to Greece or Rome or Russia or India? When you’ve never been more than 100 miles from home, what does it mean to set out on a journey of two or three or four thousand?
The best comparison we have today for this kind of commitment would be if someone asked you to go to Mars. Would you be willing to give up two years, three years, the rest of your life to do the work that God had called you to do?
Jesus’ call to the Apostles was not a simple one. It was deeply disruptive and it forced them to abandon the lives that they grew up expecting to live. It’s the same call we receive today. I pray that we embrace the challenge and let God lead us to do incredible things.
Today’s blog post was written by Benjamin Howard. Benjamin is a lead editor for Teaching and Learning Resources at The United Methodist Publishing House. He received his Master’s in Theological Studies from Lipscomb University and currently resides in Nashville.
Today’s Bible Lesson
Christ Creates Holy Living
by Patty Meyers
This bible lesson originally appeared in the Winter 2016-17 issue of Christian Living in the Mature Years.
Lesson: Galatians 5:18–6:10 • Background: Same
Continuing our study of Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians, we explore the fruit—or fruits—of the Spirit in more depth. What are they? How do they meet the needs of others? How do they work for the good of all? We will endeavor to understand the characteristics of these nine things. We will begin with definitions and pursue what they meant to Paul and his intended audience, the Galatians.
Love is one of the most over-used words in the English language. We use the word to embrace all sorts of things. We love ice cream, friends, movies, spouses, children, God. The Greeks had several words that described different kinds of love. In his book The Four Loves, C. S. Lewis uses Greek concepts to discuss four forms of human love: storge, eros, philia, and agape.1
Storge means “family love.” It is the bond among mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers— even extended family. There are many examples of storge in the Bible: Noah’s family; Ruth and Naomi; Esther and Mordecai; Mary, Martha, and Lazarus; Jesus and James, Peter, and Andrew; Rebecca and Jacob; and many more. The family is so important in the Bible that even one of the Ten Commandments is about familial love. It says, “Honor your father and your mother so that your life will be long on the fertile land that the LORD your God is giving you” (Exodus 20:12).
Eros means “physical, sensual, erotic love.” The most famous Scripture featuring this kind of human love is the Song of Songs, also known as the Song of Solomon. Genesis contains some erotic stories but not all are as beautiful as the Song of Songs.
Philia, for which the city of Philadelphia is named, means “brotherly love or friendship.” Jonathan and David come to mind, and the New Testament exhorts believers to love another, love our neighbor, and love our enemies.
Agape is “selfless, sacrificial, unconditional God-love.” It is the kind of love that Jesus had for his Father and his disciples. It is the kind of love shown by giving one’s life for one’s friends. How did Paul use the word? Galatians 5:6, 13, and 22 translate the word agape. Paul was concerned about how members of the community treated one another. He understood love to be a gift from the Holy Spirit that produced the kind of behavior that honors the Holy Spirit, in stark contrast to the list of inappropriate behaviors found in verses 19-21.
Joy is second on Paul’s list of the fruit of the spirit. Joy is more than happiness. First of all, it comes from God. It is deep and stays with us even during hard times. It is an essential part of the realm of God. It is related to the word rejoice. We can be sad and still rejoice in what we have. “The joy of the LORD is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10).
The word peace means different things, depending on the context. It can be tranquility or quiet, harmony, cessation of conflict or war, peace of mind, or inner calm. Paul wrote to the Philippians about “the peace of God that exceeds all understanding will keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus. (4:7). Paul wanted the Galatians to have the kind of peace that comes from having a right relationship with God so that it permeates one’s very being and spills out in relationships with others.
Patience is gracious behavior with others. It implies endurance and sometimes waiting. When one’s first response to a situation is frustration, it may mean taking a deep breath and thinking before putting one’s foot in one’s mouth. Paul thought that it was more than a virtue, that it was a gift of the Spirit that would have a positive effect on the way the Galatians got along with one another and with him.
Kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control are all acts of self-discipline and positive ways to treat others. They articulate the ways that believers should behave. New behaviors grounded in the new life in Christ give freedom to live differently than before. God’s faithfulness to us should evoke our faithfulness to God and to all of God’s people. In addition, these behaviors illustrate the nature of love that is listed first among the fruits of the Spirit.
Remember that this section of Scripture is part of a treatise on freedom and justification by faith. Since believers lived by the commandment of love rather than Mosaic Law, they needed some sort of system to guide their comportment. Paul did not make his appeal to the Galatians based on theological abstraction or works of righteousness. He appealed to them out of his deep desire for them to live by grace rather than Law. Paul called the Galatian Christians to a higher form of living instead of having immoral conduct or just following the rules. If they needed laws, there was no law against these nine things. They were called to live the way Christ did when he poured himself out for them and for many. Love governed his choices and his actions. If we follow Christ, love governs our choices and behavior, too.
In the last section of today’s reading in Galatians, Paul offered a few insights into what the church would be like if its members lived in the Spirit. What would life together look like if congregations were to accept and share the gifts of the Spirit? We would bear one another’s burdens as Christ bears ours. We would be gentle with other people and ourselves. It may be that some of our sharp edges would get rounded off. It may be that neither our “bark” nor “bite” would be scary. It would mean living simply so that others can simply live.
Paul said that “a person will harvest what they plant” (6:7). He exhorted the Galatians to outdo one another in doing good works. Paul wanted the Galatians to restore right relationships with God, with him, and with one another. He did not shy away from speaking the truth in love to them. He challenged them to examine themselves to see whether they lived in faith and embodied the self-giving love of Christ. He encouraged them to “carry each other’s burdens” in order to fulfill the law of Christ (6:2) and to “work for the good of all whenever we have an opportunity” (6:10)
Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians could well be entitled “A Guide to Holy Living.” It is solid teaching that would change the world if those who hear it would also do it. It is addressed to the whole community, and speaks to us as well. We have the opportunity to make our community and our world a better place. Why would we ever give that up? Think about your faith community. Imagine that everyone actively lives the fruits of the Spirit. Would there be fewer quarrels? Would people speak more kindly to one another? Would there be more outreach into the community? Would more people be involved in the mission and ministry of the Church? Would more people say yes when God calls them to ministry, whether it be lay or ordained? Would there be a strong teaching ministry? Would your community work together for the good of all, especially the vulnerable? How would congregational worship be different? As Paul understood, freedom and possibility emerge from the practice of love in all its forms, for the Galatians and for today’s communities of faith.
- goodreads.com/book/show/30633.The_Four_Loves. Accessed 12 May 2016.