His House, His Rules
Grace, mercy and peace be unto you from God, our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
"My house, my rules." We all learned this truth before we even got to Kindergarten. I vividly remember going over to spend the night with my friends from church, and their dad was stricter about certain things than mine, so when I was at their house, I adjusted to their rules, out of respect for them and because if I broke the rules, there was no doubt that their father had permission from my parents to punish me exactly the way he punished his own sons.
"My house, my rules." This is God's policy as well. Our Epistle reading is addressed to brothers and sisters within the "household of faith," which is the Christian Church on earth. God's first house rule is this: you don't become His child or enter His house on your own. Only He can bring you in for the sake of His Beloved Son and by the work of His Holy Spirit.
We were all born into this world dead in trespasses and sins, hellbound. Our eternal home should be the place of torment prepared for the devil and all the wicked. But even before you were born, God loved you and the whole world this way: He sent His Only-Begotten Son to take up human flesh in order to redeem you from sin, death, the Law, and hell. Jesus Christ, true God and true man, has redeemed you lost and condemned persons, purchased and won you from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil. How has He redeemed you? Not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent sufferings and death. Why has He redeemed you? So that you may be His own, and live under Him in His Kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true!
But the ransom price Jesus Christ paid and that God the Father accepted for your redemption would do you no good unless you could receive its benefits, so you needed the Holy Spirit to come and bring you to Jesus Christ for entrance into God the Father's household. And in Holy Baptism, the Holy Spirit has taken away your sin and the sentence of eternal damnation and exchanged them for Christ's forgiveness and the declaration of righteousness before God's judgment seat. He gave you new birth into God's Kingdom, so that you became a beloved child of God and an heir of eternal life. He has taken you out of the devil's dominion and put you into God's household of faith. All of this God has done for you only out of fatherly, divine, goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in you. All of this He has done and is still doing because He loves you and wants you to dwell in His house now and forevermore.
And now that you are in God's household, He provides you with house rules to live by. He gives these rules to you on account of His love for you. God's Word teaches that a father who doesn't discipline his children doesn't love them. Human experience proves that children thrive when they have adequate structure and order in their lives. So God inspired the Prophets and Apostles to write down rules for us to live by in God's household. Our Epistle reading today is a primary example of such instruction.
Paul presupposes that whoever is listening to this instruction is a believer in Jesus Christ, justified by faith and trusting that God's Word is true. Our text begins, "If we live by the Spirit, then by the Spirit let us also walk." To "live by the Spirit" is the opposite of being dead in sin, fleshly captives of Satan. And Paul says the consequence of living by the Spirit is walking by the Holy Spirit's leading, which means crucifying the sinful flesh and producing the fruit of the Spirit as we follow Jesus and live according to God's Word.
As a rule, Paul says, this Christian life must be marked by the Spiritual fruit of humility, kindness, and love. He says: "Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another." There is no room in God's house for pride or arrogance, and if your fellow Christians enjoy great blessings, you should rejoice with them and never resentfully envy them.
Then Paul gives this rule: "Brothers (and sisters), if an individual is nevertheless overtaken in some transgression, you who are Spiritual should restore such a one with the Spirit of gentleness while watching yourself lest you also be tempted." This is a rule that makes the world call "foul." The world says, "Don't you dare try to tell me that what I am doing is wrong. That is judgmental!" Of course, it is a very uncomfortable thing for us to call others to repentance, and none of us likes to be called to repentance. Our sinful flesh bristles at the slightest rebuke. But St. Paul is saying that we must discipline ourselves to be ready to correct our erring brothers and sisters or to accept correction from them when we are sinning.
You can see how this ties in with Paul's rule that we not become conceited and prideful: we must never approach a sinning fellow Christian in a self-righteous, holier-than thou way; on the other hand, when we are erring, we have to swallow our pride in order to graciously accept the call to repentance from our brother or sister in Christ. In our Grace Lutheran Church Constitution, this is actually listed as a requirement of membership: "out of Christian love [all members must] submit to brotherly admonition…when having erred or offended." And when our fellow Christian corrects us, we can't get indignant and say, "How dare you!" Instead, we must respond with humility and gratitude: "Thank you for helping me out of this unchristian behavior and for leading me back into a Christian way of life." We heard last week (Galatians 5) that those who persist in performing works of the flesh and do not repent will not inherit the Kingdom of God, so we should be as grateful to someone who corrects us as we would be to a firefighter who pulls us from a burning house.
The next rule Paul gives is this: "Bear one another's burdens, and so you will fulfill the Law of Christ." In the ancient world, bearing heavy loads was the work of slaves. This means that we brothers and sisters in Christ are to be slaves to one another, seeking to serve each other according to various needs. "Love your neighbor as yourself," Jesus said, which will involve helping our neighbors remove their sin-burden and helping them endure physical and emotional burdens that they face in this broken creation.
At first glance it seems that Paul contradicts himself a couple verses later when he says: "For each one shall bear his own load." If you have to bear your own load, then how would there be room for me to help you bear it? What he is saying is that the fact that we Christians should bear each others' burdens doesn't mean we can slack off and take advantage of the kindness of others: if we have the ability to carry our own weight, then we must do it. It is only when we are truly in need of help that we are to rely upon others.
The next rule Paul gives concerns our support of the preaching of God's Word and Sacraments. He says, "Let the one who is taught the Word share all good things with the teacher." This is about respect for and support of the men whom God calls to preach and teach His Word in congregations. God expects people to treat their called pastors well and to provide for their living. Note well that this is an unconditional rule: Paul doesn't say, share all good things with teachers whom you like personally, or who preach short sermons, or who do things exactly like the previous pastor, or who look the other way when they learn of public sin. No, Paul bluntly states: "Let the one who is taught the Word share all good things with the teacher." If your pastor is faithful in preaching God's Word and administering the Sacraments, then God demands that you share all good things with him.
Next, St. Paul gives a general rule for those who think they can ignore God's rules: "Do not be deceived (or do not deceive yourselves); God is not mocked." If you think you can have a take it or leave it attitude toward God's Word, then you must know that He will not tolerate your disdain. Paul uses an agricultural metaphor to illustrate this. He says, "For whatever a person sows, that he or she will also reap, because the one who sows to his or her own flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction." In other words, if you invest your time, energy, and money in gratifying your flesh instead of in serving the Lord, then you will harvest nothing but eternal destruction.
On the other hand, Paul says, "the one who sows to the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap life eternal. But let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap [a harvest] if we do not give up." To "sow to the Spirit" means to live by faith in Jesus Christ and to produce the fruit of the Holy Spirit. This passage does not mean that we earn eternal life by our efforts, but it does mean that saving faith will always produce good fruit and our faithfulness will be rewarded in this life and in the life to come, provided that we "do not give up."
Just as in our own domestic lives we sometimes grow weary and feel like throwing in the towel, so also this can happen to members of God's household. The devil will come after us when we are exhausted and discouraged and tempt us to run away from our Father's home. But we know that our Father loves us, even when—especially when—we are weak and weary, and our Big Brother Jesus always is waiting with open arms in the Word and Sacraments here in God's house, beckoning: "Come to Me, all ye weak and heavy laden, and I will give you rest."
Finally, Paul concludes with this rule: "Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to the members of the household of faith." God wants us to do good works for all people, but he makes a special distinction among people: we are especially to do good for those we live with in the household of God, in the Christian Church. That means we need to be especially on the lookout for opportunities to bear the burdens of our fellow Christians, and in so doing, we will fulfill the Law of Christ, who loved us and gave Himself for us, to give us an eternal and imperishable home in heaven. May He send us His Holy Spirit to keep us in the Faith until then, and may the Spirit produce in us abundant fruits. Let us pray: "Merciful Father, through Holy Baptism You called us to be Your own possession. Grant that our lives may evidence the working of Your Holy Spirit in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, according to the image of Your only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior." In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.