Life gets hard. We are living in a world that is upside-down, where sickness, evil, confusion and death are very present to those who follow Jesus, and to those who do not. So, at times it might feel natural to want to give up on hope. Would it not be easier to live for self, rather than to press on growing character which seeks to be conformed to the image of Jesus? Paul knew this very human temptation and he rallied his readers with this battle cry: “So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.” We may not always have control over the situation at hand, but we always have a choice of responses. Choosing to do good will bring about benefits even if at present we do not see them.
Paul lived out what he had written as he set sail on his second missionary adventure shortly after writing this letter to the Galatians. I can imagine that traveling back in the New Testament days could be very draining, yet Paul pressed on. He knew his purpose, he had good to share, and his harvest of blessings was bountiful. Father, thank You for the example we get to read about in the life of Your servant Paul. You have not only used him to share Your good news first-hand in many unique situations, but You also allowed him time, sometimes while in prison, to write letters that continue to inspire and encourage us today. May we press on in the strength that You provide in the fields that You have prepared for us. May our harvests be joyfully abundant. Amen.
Galatians 6:9 NLT
Do not give up hope! Paul did not write to his friends to condemn them but rather to encourage them to live life with joy and great hope. This expanded sentence shows that pressing on in God is so worth it. For we, [not relying on the Law but] through the [Holy] Spirit’s [help], by faith anticipate and wait for the blessing and good for which our righteousness and right standing with God [our conformity to His will in purpose, thought, and action, causes us] to hope. Let’s be thankful for the blessings we have received, and with hope wait for the blessings yet to come. And come they will to those who seek to live rightly with God. Anticipate His blessings like a child anticipates a birthday gift. God’s blessings are presents that help shape us to be more like Jesus. Being like Him is very, very good for us.
I’m no longer a kid, but I still love birthdays. Back in 2001 I founded ABC (August Birthday Club) with two friends, and through the years it has been fun to include other women who have August birthdays too. I had a feeling that turning forty might be a challenging year for me so I bought journals that year for my birthday friends and I began to focus on a year of joy. As passages about joy filled my journal, my life reflected that joy with expanding hope. My fortieth year was a great growth year. I was intent on seeking out joy, wherever it could be found, in both the obvious places and in challenging situations too, and in doing so my faith and trust increased. I’m excited about the blessings God still has for me, no matter what my age. Each completed year is evidence of His love in my life as His Presence is the most cherished gift.
Galatians 5:5 AMP
Paul mentioned a personal situation and asked those he taught in Galatia to recall the love that they had for him and for one another. “…you know that previously I preached the gospel to you because of a physical illness. You did not despise or reject me though my physical condition was a trial for you. On the contrary, you received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus Himself. What happened to this sense of being blessed you had?” Even though the times were challenging, the church once had deep satisfaction and a grateful spirit when Paul was serving among them. Hardships and trials can bring about real bonding. Paul wrote a reminder of this because he didn’t want those he cared about to forget the joy that they once had together. He wanted them to go forward in peaceful blessedness.
Blessing and being blessed is God’s plan for our life story, but at times we forget, and other times our enemy would like to rob us of our sense of being blessed. Thinking about God’s love for us can help us assess the situation and calibrate our reactions appropriately. Then we can choose to bless.
Back in the days before cell phones, the over-night bus from Kunming to Lijiang normally took fourteen hours to wind its way through China’s developing countryside. Our young family of five and a fellow language student boarded with Oreo cookies – a rare treasure – to bless our friends that we were going to visit. Some time around midnight the bus stopped in the middle of nowhere. Thirty-something hours later, after dynamite had cleared a dangerous mountain road landslide, we hugged our anxiously waiting friends. We were greatly relieved that our bus did not go over a cliff, like some do, and we all laughed about the gifts of cookies becoming our survival food. To this day when I enjoy Oreos I remember that trip, my gratitude to God for our safe travel, and for the bonding created because of the “trial”. Remembering God can be the sweetest part of our days.
P.S. Small trials can prepare us for bigger ones. Our friend who studied Chinese with us in the mid-1990s has bravely weathered many trials without becoming bitter toward God. She diligently prays for those from whom the trials come, and in the pain she seeks hope and models faithfulness, beauty and trust.
Galatians 4:13-15a HCBS
Further explanation given in the letter Paul wrote to the church in Galatia shows us a couple of things. We can read just how strongly this community was driven to live by legalism and then read just how important it was for them, and for us today, to reflect and live gratefully based on what God has provided for us through His Son Jesus. “What is the point, then, of the law, the attached addendum? It was a thoughtful addition to the original covenant promises made to Abraham. The purpose of the law was to keep a sinful people in the way of salvation until Christ (the descendant) came, inheriting the promises and distributing them to us. Obviously this law was not a firsthand encounter with God. It was arranged by angelic messengers through a middleman, Moses. But if there is a middleman as there was at Sinai, then the people are not dealing directly with God, are they? But the original promise is the direct blessing of God, received by faith.” Let us live as grateful free people, free to love God and love others in ways that please Him who has so richly blessed us.
Galatians 3:18-20 MSG
Paul continued his letter reiterating that Christians are not given new life by obeying the law of Moses, but by living according to the way of Jesus. Whether we are new Christians or have been in God’s family for a long time, it is great to think about the truth that Paul explains. “But Christ has rescued us from the curse pronounced by the law. When he was hung on the cross, he took upon himself the curse for our wrongdoing. For it is written in the Scriptures, “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” Through Christ Jesus, God has blessed the Gentiles with the same blessing he promised to Abraham, so that we who are believers might receive the promised Holy Spirit through faith.” One day our faith will become sight. But now we live by faith with God’s Holy Spirit living within us.
Our family has moved quite a bit. Yet wherever we go, God’s Holy Spirit goes with us, within us. One day I was going through boxes that were stored in Russell’s sister’s home during the time we lived away from the US. What a blessing it was to find an old Bible from my own new Christian days and to read notes like this one- “Faith is: F-forsaking A-all I T-trust H-him.” That is just what Paul sought to teach! Jesus came to reverse the curse and offer life to walking dead people. It is time to give up the prideful ways of thinking, that goodness in itself is adequate outside of God. Humankind needs redeeming, not just touch-up work. Can I trust that He is all I need and can I really believe that He died to rescue me? Jesus gave us new life with His Spirit to fill us where there once was sin and void. He removes our hollow meaninglessness.
Galatians 3:10-14 NLT
Paul traveled to many areas to share the good news, and as he taught and preached he lived life in community. He could not be everywhere at once, so he wrote letters of encouragement and correction to various churches he had started or in other ways had had an impact. Now each of us can learn from these letters written many generations ago. The people living in Galatia needed a reminder that it is by God’s grace that anyone can be rescued. Everyone is made right by believing, placing faith in Jesus who is the One who does the rescuing. Paul reminded them: “Now the Scripture saw in advance that God would justify the Gentiles by faith and told the good news ahead of time to Abraham, saying, All the nations will be blessed through you. So those who have faith are blessed with Abraham, who had faith.”
Praise be to God who has made a way for us! This is good news and it is so exciting to think that the blessings back in the days of Abraham are passed on to all who have faith, in Paul’s day and in ours, and for the generations yet to come. All nations will be blessed. That is a big promise. But that is okay, our God is big. As we live out the blessings in the community we find ourselves in, may we live faithfully and expectantly with a desire to both learn and teach. God, help us in our days to not let the light go dim or the truth lose its saltiness. Amen.
Galatians 3:8-9 HCSB