The Law of Love
September 08, 2002
Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. . . . But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the Law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. . . .
Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. Therefore let us not grow weary in doing what is right. (Galatians 5:16, 18-23; 6:7-9)
Read also: Galatians 3-6
Reading from Swedenborg
As to the writings of the Apostles and of Paul, I have not quoted them in the Arcana Coelestia because they are doctrinal writings, and thus are not written in the style of the Word. . . . They were written in this way by the Apostles so that the new Christian Church might be founded through them. Therefore matters of doctrine could not be written in the style of the Word, but had to be expressed in such a way as to be understood more clearly and intimately. Still, the writings of the Apostles are good books of the church, insisting on the doctrine of charity and its faith as strongly as the Lord himself has done in the Gospels and the Book of Revelation--as all who pay attention to these points while reading them may see clearly. (Swedenborg's third letter to Dr. Beyer)
When Paul wrote to an early church that he had founded in Asia Minor on his second missionary journey, he was writing to a church of Gentiles. The letter was written between the years 52 and 57 AD. During these years there was a gathering of the Apostles and the leaders of the early church, at which they discussed the ongoing problem of the relationship between the Jewish Christians and the Gentiles who had become Christians.
The primary difficulty they had in accepting one another was that the Jews felt that the Gentiles needed to accept the Mosaic Law. The Gentiles said they were followers of Jesus' teachings, and did not need to follow the Law of Moses. The debate threatened to destroy the feeling of unity and brotherhood that the early leaders knew was necessary for the church to grow. So these leaders came together in what was later called the Council of Jerusalem. In that council, the decision was made that though following the law was not necessary, it would certainly be beneficial, and it was recommended that all Christians do so.
Paul was unaware of this decision, but was aware of the conflict. In this letter to this Gentile church he advocated something different from the decision made at the council. Paul wrote what would later be pointed to as the basis for the Protestant movement of Luther. He spoke about justification by faith in Christ, which frees the conscience from the Mosaic Law. In other words, God considers your belief in Christ to be enough for your salvation. This, at any rate, is how Paul's statements were later interpreted.
However, in our church we believe that it is not enough just to believe in God, just to have faith. We must work toward change in ourselves--which will bring us closer to God and the heavenly life. We sometimes think that this is different from the early church, but this is not so. The council of Jerusalem advocated following the Law of Moses. They recognized the need of followers and believers to be disciplined in their life, and to do as well as to be. Paul also believed and taught the same thing, in his own way.
In chapter five of his letter to the Galatians, Paul writes, "Out of love place yourselves at one another's service. The whole law has found its fulfillment in this one saying: 'You shall love your neighbors as yourself'" (Galatians 5:13, 14). He does not say that faith without works is enough--as was read into him much later by the Protestant Church, and is now loudly proclaimed by fundamentalist Christian churches. Paul said that to believe in Christ means to believe in the message of Christ.
The Gospel of John says, "In the beginning was the Word. . . . And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us" (John 1:1, 14). In the beginning was the message, and the message was Christ. To believe in Christ is to believe in the message. And the message is that you shall love your neighbor as yourself. That is what is needed. That is what is required for our salvation.
So if a question arises in your mind, after all the work that you have done in finding the will of God for yourself, there is a simple ray of pure light to use as a beacon directing you to God's eternal will. Ask yourself: Is this a truly loving act? Is this a truly loving attitude? Is this a truly loving choice for myself, and for others who will be affected?
We talk often in this church about the freedom of choice God has given us. What is that freedom? In Galatians chapter four Paul talks of the allegory of freedom. He says quite clearly that the Jerusalem on high is freeborn. The Jerusalem of the spirit, which we know as the New Jerusalem, is populated by the free--those who are in liberty. He says in chapter five that it was for liberty that Christ freed us. We are not to be slaves of an external law, but to follow a stronger and more reliable law held in great value deep within. This internal law is found through faith in Christ Jesus, which expresses itself through love (Galatians 5:6).
What are the fruits of the spirit that we can enjoy? Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control are among the fruits. But the greatest is life everlasting in the presence of God. And remember: eternity begins now.
Dearest Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, we thank you for coming among us to free us from the strictures of mere behavioral observance of the external law. We thank you for offering us a new covenant: a covenant in which your law of love is written on our hearts, and from there in our bodies. We thank you for showing us the way to eternal life through your own hard-fought example.
We pray that you will help us to move beyond legalism and a grudging obedience to external law, and open us instead to a heartfelt devotion and commitment to your higher law of love. For you have summed up all the Law and the Prophets in these two commandments: that we love you with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and love our neighbor as ourselves. Keep us always faithful to these, your two Great Commandments. Amen.
Rev. Marlene Laughlin