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Lunch with the Apostle Paul, Pt. 4: Dessert

A dramatized sermon by Dr. Jim Somerville, Pastor
Richmond’s First Baptist Church
Richmond, Virginia
June 23, 2013

The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

The Book of Galatians

If you are just joining us you may need to know that for the past few weeks I’ve been having lunch with the Apostle Paul, played by Dr. Scott Spencer, Professor of New Testament and Biblical Interpretation at the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. And if you’ve been here I think you’d agree with me that Dr. Spencer has done an outstanding job of helping us get inside the mind of Paul, and understand some of those more difficult passages in his letter to the Galatians. So far he and I have worked through the appetizer course, the soup and salad course, last week we had the main course, the entree, and today we are having dessert together, with the Apostle Paul, and in the role of the interrupting worship leader, our own Dr. Phil Mitchell.

Jim Somerville: Well Paul, look, we’ve got pie, a lovely piece of pie. It looks like apple pie, which is good.

Scott Spencer: Oh, apple pie!

JS: It reminds me of the fruit of the spirit you talk about in Galatians 5. I want to talk about that today, but...

Phil Mitchell: Wait just one minute.

JS: What?

PM: I’ve been sitting over there in the penalty box for three weeks. Waiting for you to ask the one question that all of wants to ask the Apostle Paul.

JS: What question would that be? Phil?

PM: What is the thorn in the flesh?

SS: You all have been concerned about this?

PM: Extremely.

SS: Well, let me just ask first of all, I thought you said that my letters had become part of the Bible? Yes?

JS: Yes, your letters are in the Bible.

SS: And many folks take the Bible literally?

JS: Yes, they do.

SS: OK, and do you not have bushes with thorns in your country?

JS: Yes. Yes, we do.

SS: Then I’m not sure what the problem is. I have a thorn in my flesh. I mean...

JS: There you go.

SS: Well, I’ll give you a little more. I don’t share this with everyone, but I’ll go ahead. I had a bad accident one day. I travelled a lot you know, on the road side and what not. Well, I’m a bit clumsy. I wound up stumbling and falling back on this big rose bush, and a big thorn got stuck in my fleshy part. Thorn in the flesh.

JS: I don’t think you refer to that anywhere in your letters.

SS: No, not, not in so many words. It’s not true. I had you going there for a minute. No no no, good gracious!

JS: That didn’t really happen?

SS: No, not that way, and I’m glad you take the Bible literally but you shouldn’t take all of it literally. There are metaphors and figures of speech and that’s what this thorn in the flesh is all about. It’s a figure of speech for certain ailments and suffering and the hardship that I went through, and I don’t want to get into specifics. I’m sorry, because I don’t want to glorify any particular ailment. Oh this thing is really bad as opposed to anything else. No no no. It was part of my suffering. And, I do want to say this though, whatever the specifics, and you don’t really need to know those, it was something serious. It was something painful, not just a little splinter in the finger, or a little paper cut or pin prick or anything like that. No, it was something quite serious, in fact the word that I used, I mean thorn is ok, it’s the Greek term scallops. And it means anything that is pointed and that pierces, and particularly can mean something more like a stake in the flesh. And that’s getting a little closer to the idea. Particularly because of the tie-in with my identification with Jesus and his suffering and his crucified life.

JS: Ah.

SS: It’s, as it were, and I’m not remotely pretending to be Jesus of course, but there is this sense of bearing in my body the marks of Christ. Now, I do not glorify pain or suffering for me or for anyone else, and I tell you what I prayed as hard as I’ve ever prayed, three times, get this thing out of me, God! And God said, No. God doesn’t always do exactly what we want. But, he has a larger plan in mind, and again, I think the important thing is not to focus so much on the particulars, but to realize how this functioned in my life. And God said, No Paul, we’re going to leave this in. You’re going to continue down this particular road of hardship because you learn something from this. I had a bit of a problem of stubbornness, pride, and what not in my former life, and continued to even after I followed Christ, and this thorn became a constant reminder to me that I could not do this work on my own. And God said as clear as a bell, This thorn is like a symbol for you to remind you that my grace is sufficient for you. And Lord knows, I needed all the grace in the world. And when I was weak, that’s really when I was strong. Now again, I don’t wish suffering or pain on anyone. There’s nothing admirable in it in and of itself, but it can point us to what God needs to be doing in our lives. I came to view this stake more like a chisel that was chopping away at my rough bits and forming and molding and shaping Christ within me. I hope that helps a little bit brother Phil. I know I didn’t give you a specific answer, but, but maybe, I don’t know, maybe that helps.

PM: The preachily non-answering. I have four to one odds with Ralph Starling...

SS: Oh yeah?

PM: ...that it was a Texas-sized bunion. But I appreciate the answer, and I appreciate the personal nature of it, but we still love you, and we appreciate you being here.

SS: Well thank you, and I appreciate you asking the question. That’s how you learn, yes indeed. I love that man.

JS: Yes.

SS: Even though he interrupts a little bit.

JS: From time to time, he does.

SS: A wonderful musician, my goodness! These weeks, the music has been unbelievable! You all are so fortunate, I hope you’re paying the man what he’s worth.

JS: Well, no one could pay him what he’s worth, but we do try to show our appreciation. We do.

SS: Oh, well good.

JS: Now where were we before we were so rudely interrupted?

SS: Yes, well.

JS: We were talking about dessert, and about this lovely apple pie, and about....

SS: You keep talking about it and I’m just going to start eating it.

JS: I’m going to try it. I was actually hoping that that waiter would come around with some coffee, but, I don’t see him anywhere.

SS: I think we sufficiently offended him, I think he’s gone.

JS: Apple pie. Apple pie, one of the fruits of the earth, and I wanted to talk about the fruit of the Spirit. Something you focus on here in chapter five of Galatians.

SS: Yes.

JS: In fact, if we know anything from your letters, most of us know something about the fruit of the Spirit. We talk about that, love, joy, peace, patience, etc.

SS: Yes.

JS: But I noticed as I was re-reading your letter that you say to the Galatians here in chapter three, did you receive the Spirit by observing the law or by believing what you heard. And I just wanted to ask you, there was some experience behind that. How did the Galatians receive the Spirit? Tell me about that?

SS: That’s a great question. And the short answer there is exactly what you read. Simply by faith, not by keeping the works of the law. But maybe a little bigger picture. Actually here I’m gonna appeal to my friend Peter who I was a little hard on earlier in our meal, you might remember, but he got some things right and he really got this thing about the Spirit and how it’s received right, because he was there at the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the early church. Everyone was filled with the Spirit and it blew in like a mighty gust of wind. It was wonderful, and then Peter began to preach about Jesus, and his life and his death, and his resurrection. And the larger crowd began to gather around, realized something was going on here. Something was happening that they hadn’t expected, and they just said, Peter what do we do? How do we get this? What’s going on? And he very succinctly replied, he said look, this is not just some little private Holy Ghost thing we have, it’s for everyone. It’s for you, and your children, and anyone who is far off...

JS: Like the Galatians.

SS: He didn’t know about the Galatians at that time but it certainly included that. And he said, look, all that you need to do is repent, turn your life toward this one I’ve been speaking about, and be baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus for the forgiveness of sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, just like we did. That word gift, is so key. We don’t go out and buy it, we don’t go out and work it up, God just simply gives it to us as part of our family inheritance, as being part of the family of God. And that’s exactly how the Galatians received it.

JS: So, you talk about this, about the Spirit, and certainly part of your everyday experience in the life of that early church, but, for our larger audience, and maybe for some people who are not as familiar with it, what is the Spirit? How would you describe it for modern day people?

SS: That’s a very good question. And I do find, I did find in my day, and I have the idea even in your day that people don’t really know that much about the Holy Spirit. In fact I met a group one time, Luke talks about it in Acts, a group of, well they called themselves believers, in Ephesus, they knew a good bit about the Lord, and they had been baptized by followers of John the Baptist. They were good folks. And I just asked them, I just met them, there were about a dozen of them, I said, Oh well have you received the Holy Spirit since you believed? And they came back and said what are you talking about? We don’t even know there is this, what, Holy Spirit?

JS: Sounds like some of the Baptists I’ve talked to.

SS: If you say so. I have sort of gotten this impression that there’s just this kind of fuzziness and vagueness. Well there’s no way in a short period of time, or a long period of time, that I could define the Holy Spirit. That’s quite the opposite of Holy Spirit that’s dynamic and that defies all boxes and definitions. But, just to get us thinking in the right direction, the Holy Spirit as I see it is this living, pulsing, dynamic presence and power of God. Working in our world and in our midst. I mean it is the very person of God in this force. Just the two words, Holy Spirit, are kind of interesting, haggion pneumata. Haggion, holy. Well, one of the main reasons, and we sometimes forget this cause we get caught up in all sorts of things, but the Holy Spirit is active in our midst to help make us holy. Not holier than thou or putting on holy airs, but being set apart, but helping form Christ within us so that we may live that Christ-like life. That’s why the Spirit is given for purposes of helping us become holier than we are. And then this Spirit word, this pneumata, really means something like wind, or air, or, my favorite term, it’s really the very breath, the breath of God. Just like in the very beginning of creation, God created the first human creature and then breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. That’s the Spirit, and that animated the human being, that’s what gave the human real life, the very life and spark of God within, and that’s how we are animated to live the Christian life.

JS: So, I’ve been trying to listen carefully to everything you’ve said and to read your letters, and it seems to me that this is how it was for you. You would go from place to place and preach the good news about Jesus, the Messiah, who had died, and been buried, and been raised from the dead by God.

SS: Indeed.

JS: You would preach that gospel and people would hear it, and some of them would believe it.

SS: Yes.

JS: And then they would be baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.

SS: Yes.

JS: And they would be filled with Holy Spirit.

SS: Yes.

JS: This was just how it was.

SS: The gift simply came.

JS: In fact you said to those Ephesians, you know, didn’t you receive the Spirit when you were baptized?

SS: I assumed they had. Yes.

JS: Something must be wrong.

SS: Indeed.

JS: I don’t know that for us these days it is always like that. I think sometimes people are baptized without ever thinking that they will receive the Holy Spirit, and maybe it’s because we don’t understand what the Spirit is or how it manifests itself. For example...

SS: Yes?

JS: Among those Ephesians, after they had been baptized in the name of Jesus, and after you had laid hands on them, prayed for them, they began to speak in tongues and prophesy.

SS: Oh they did, yes.

JS: And I’ve got to say, there aren’t many of us here who would say that we speak in tongues and prophesy but we might all say that we have the Holy Spirit. Tell me about that.

SS: Well that’s very interesting. There are different ways that the Spirit can manifest itself, and again just like we talked about earlier about the law is very good but it’s not an end in itself, so these various manifestations of the Spirit are fine. It was indeed very common in my day for people to burst out with these sort of ecstatic words of praise. They didn’t quite know what they were saying but they were just so overcome with joy. Some called it a heavenly language, they spoke in tongues. I spoke in tongues from time to time. It wasn’t a huge deal that I made of it, but that’s one manifestation. There’d be prophesying, there’d be miracle working, so there’d be sometimes a lot of loud, exuberant joy. That was pretty common, but it didn’t have to be that way. That was just one manifestation. The Spirit can also come in that quiet, still voice. You know the Corinthian church.

JS: Yes.

SS: I’m sure you’ve read those letters.

JS: Mm hmm.

SS: There was no more Spirit-filled church than those folks, oh! Gifted, and the Spirit was moving, and all kinds of ways. Gifts were just flowing. Things got a little, should we say wild there? It was great, but sometimes things can get a little bit out of hand. For example, in a worship service, I’m actually quite, I’ve enjoyed being here, people are actually pretty quiet during the worship service, and yeah, the occasional chuckle, I don’t even, do you all say Amen ever? I don’t know?

JS: No, never.

SS: Well ok, that’s all right. That’s all right. You know and you don’t interrupt, well except for Brother Phil...

JS: Right.

SS: But very, very polite, now you all stand and sing together and this.. Well, in the Corinthian church, if you came in, man, one would be popping up speaking in tongues, one group over here would be singing like crazy. You’d have a three-piece band over here, I mean it was great in one sense because everyone was making a joyful noise to the Lord, but it got a little disorderly, and can you imagine a visitor coming in to that three-ring circus? They might say, something’s going on here but we don’t have a clue. You know, this is almost a little scary. So I wrote them and said, don’t quench the Spirit, it’s great that you have all these gifts, but some order, being concerned about others, because, you mentioned this a while back, the most important chapter I wrote, most important part of that First Corinthians, was about love. And I wrote about it in the middle of all these gifts that were going on because the Corinthians were becoming a little too caught up in their own spiritual experience. They were having a great and wonderful time, but not being very concerned about their neighbor or visitor, and I just told them flat out, look, the Spirit, the fruit of the Spirit is first of all love, ministering the life of Christ with us, and serving one another with these gifts. And I don’t care if you’re speaking in the tongues of man and of angels, if you’re working miracles, if you’re moving mountains with your faith. I don’t care what big stuff is going on, if it’s not done in and through love for one another it profits nothing. And they needed to hear that. And that I think is the balance here. So, if you’re not into, I guess is the word, speaking in tongues or whatever, that’s fine. It’s not a particular manifestation but it’s still knowing and sensing that the Spirit of God is moving and gifting everyone for service.

JS: I think it’s here in Corinthians you talk about the body of Christ.

SS: Ah, yes, yes.

JS: Which is another metaphor.

SS: It is indeed.

JS: But it’s a powerful metaphor to imagine that these people here, for instance, make up the body of Christ, and the Spirit is the breath...

SS: Yes indeed!

JS: ...that animates the body, that gets it up and moving and working in the world.

SS: Beautifully! Absolutely.

JS: I love you say here in First Corinthians, there is one Spirit..

SS: Yes.

JS: That controls all of this activity...

SS: That’s right.

JS: And there are these different gifts. There is wisdom, and knowledge, healing, and prophesy, and miracles, and all of these gifts are given out to the members of the body. But one Spirit controlling all of this, working through all of this, animating the body of Christ in way that it works together. Those various gifts, you know I think about those and the way they are manifested. I think about these people, some of them have wonderful gifts, of hospitality, evangelism, friendship, and teaching, and comforting, and prophesy. All of those things. And it reminds me of what you say in Galatians about the fruit of the Spirit. You mention all kinds of fruit. you say the fruit of the Spirit is love, and then there’s joy and peace and patience, and I’m going to turn to the list just so I can get it right. Kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. But somehow all of this is the fruit that comes from a life lived in the Spirit.

SS: Yes.

JS: Does that sound like what...

SS: That’s beautifully put. A life lived richly and fully. And it’s a life lived over a life time. It doesn’t all happen at once. We still struggle with counter forces and all of this. We don’t always love as we should, but yes, there is this constant impulse, and I love how you paraphrased or read my stuff, if that’s the word, very well, that it all comes together as this one body, and we all play different roles. And you mentioned some of them beautifully. Some of us play the role of a hand, some of an arm, some of an ear, you know. We have all different parts, but they’re connected together. Some are more, should we say, glamour parts, some are less special in that outward sense, but oh my, all are vital and important working together with this breath of the Spirit. And in this context of this fruitfulness of character that starts with love, it isn’t accidental that I started with the fruit of the Spirit is love. That sums up the whole law, that sums up what we are to be about as the people of God. If what we do in the Spirit and through the Spirit, really serves others, I think I use a phrase in Galatians, bear one another’s burdens. If it really becomes that sense of you’re part of my family, I’m a part of yours, and we’re in this together, we’ve got each other’s back, then that is how the Spirit desires for us to work. That’s beginning to develop that fruit of love.

JS: You know, I was asking you Paul how the Spirit is manifested in the life of the believer, because it’s true. That we are supposed to hear the word, and believe it, and be baptized, and receive the Holy Spirit. Then there should be some evidence in our lives that we have received the Spirit.

SS: Indeed, yes.

JS: There should be some fruit. Didn’t you say somewhere, didn’t your people say that, you know, by your fruits you shall know them?

SS: Oh yes, absolutely. It’s actually a very simple image. I mean we were primarily an agricultural society so fruit trees and such were abundant and all around. A big part of our diet, and yes, how do you know? What, you said this was apple pie?

JS: Apple pie.

SS: Well, how do you know you got yourself an apple tree out there? To make your apple pie? Well, you got leaves, you got bark, you gotta have fruit on there, otherwise it’s just a pile of leaves.

JS: So in your thinking, for the average believer, there has to be some fruit, some evidence..

SS: Indeed, yes.

JS: ...of the Spirit, and the fruit that you’re looking for most of all is the fruit of love.

SS: Yes.

JS: Is that right?

SS: Absolutely, yes. And again, whether these other things, whether you’re shouting, speaking this or that, those are nice, but it’s that, well, I’ll come back to that holiness thing again. It’s not holiness is some sort of, you know, artificial piety, whatever that might mean. No, it’s holiness that works itself out in love. God is love. The Spirit is love. Jesus said, how are folks going to know that you’re followers of me? Well, they will know you are my followers because of the love that you have one for another, and the standard of that love, because love can be another one of these things that can be kind of mushy to define, you must love as I have loved you. And he spoke that by the way in the gospel of John, just after he had washed their feet, which is a pretty dramatic illustration of what love is all about in this is the master serving by washing the feet of the disciples. That is the fruit of the Spirit. It’s how we love and care for one another as Christ has cared for us. And everyone of us can do that, quietly, loudly, it doesn’t matter, but that’s the evidence the Spirit is working.

JS: I don’t want to go into this too much and we really do need to wrap up. I hate to say that, but, but the other side of life in the Spirit is life in the flesh, as you say here in Galatians. And I just want to touch on this briefly. Because I don’t think you’re saying that the flesh is evil.

SS: No!

JS: That the body is evil.

SS: No!

JS: The body is good.

SS: Oh absolutely!

JS: It can do good things, it can do bad things.

SS: Absolutely.

JS: It seems to me that you’re saying a life that is led by the appetites of the flesh, by giving your body whatever it wants whenever it wants it, that kind of life will lead you down the wrong path. And you say here all kinds of things.

SS: I have a whole list of them don’t I?

JS: Sexual immorality, impurity, debauchery, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ...you go on and on..

SS: I know, I got on a roll there.

JS: You really did. But you’re saying this is the opposite of life in the Spirit. Life in the Spirit seems to be controlled by the Spirit of love and always has the other person in mind. Whereas this life, life in the flesh, where we are controlled by our desires, it seems to be all about us. Selfish, and only concerned about our own appetite. Does that...

SS: Oh yes, that’s very well put. And there is this struggle, there is this, and again, I’m using flesh as a metaphor for our sinful nature, not this. Because again, our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit. But there is this conflict that I continue to struggle with myself. In Romans I was very honest and said the good that I want to do some days I just, I want to so badly, and I do exactly the opposite. And I keep doing it day in and day out. Who will deliver me from these works of the flesh? So there is that struggle and I want everyone to know that that this is not a simple one, two, three magic formula, but the Spirit is there, is our helper. Not to say, oh you’re doing the works of the flesh, bad you! But to say, I can animate a different kind of life. Let’s go this way. Because that is the way of love. Because as you said we often do these works of the flesh because they focus on ourselves and we think we’re doing ourselves all these favors by ignoring everyone else and the irony, the tragic irony is that that’s actually the path to our own ruin. The more we turn in ourselves, and serve ourselves, we do not live according to the way God has made us. And that becomes the road to ruin.

JS: In the same way, the Holy Spirit animates the body of Christ, the church. That Spirit can animate the individual believer. That it is the source of our power and the possibility of living a life in Christ that is pleasing to God. I really have to cut us short Paul, but I...

SS: I’m getting that impression, yes.

JS: I wonder if you could do this, I wonder if you could do this, could you say a prayer for us, for the people of Richmond’s First Baptist Church, that each of us individually would be filled to overflowing with God’s Holy Spirit and that this body of Christ in this place would be animated by that same holy breath.

SS: May we pray. Lord we thank you for the gift of your Holy Spirit, whereby we can cry out, softly or loudly, or even without words, just feel inside, Abba, Father. Lord, thank you for that gift individually in each of our lives, and thank you for that gift corporately, as it joins us together in this one body. Lord I do pray for this church, clearly these folks love you, clearly there is evidence of the fruit of the Spirit and love for you and one another here. Thank you for the work that they do and continue to do. And fill them even more to overflowing, and as they struggle, as we all do, we pray that the Spirit’s power will be stronger than any force that pulls against them. Breathe Holy Spirit, afresh on this body of believers. In Christ’s name, amen.

JS: Paul, thank you so much, it’s been great having you here for lunch. I hate to say goodbye. Let me say goodbye with a holy kiss.

SS: Thank you brother.

JS: Thank you.

Our closing hymn is Hymn 431, Jesus is Lord of All. I invite you to come forward. Respond to the good gifts Christ has given, give your life to him as we stand and sing Hymn 431.

—Jim Somerville 2013

 
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