“It is the sweet, simple things of life which are the real ones, after all.” So says the author of Little House on the Prairie, Laura Ingalls Wilder. And I love this old Shaker Hymn: “Tis a gift to be simple, tis a gift to be free. Tis a gift to come down where we ought to be.” But life is so very often not simple. It’s complicated and difficult and filled with so many motivations all mixed together and hard to tease out the good from the bad.
So, how do we live in this complicated world with the truth that the simple things are the best things? Well, first we have to be wise enough and humble enough to discern what those simple things are. And you’re not going to do that by yourself. You’re going to need the humility to learn wisdom from those who came before you, and then you’re going to have to do the disciplines of that wisdom to be able to tell the simple from the deceptively complicated. If you do this, you’ll be free from the delusions than complicate your life.
Look at our lesson today in Galatians 5:11-21:
BRETHREN, if I still preach circumcision, why am I still persecuted? In that case the stumbling block of the cross has been removed. I wish those who unsettle you would mutilate themselves! For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love be servants of one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another take heed that you are not consumed by one another. But I say, walk by the Spirit, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you would. But if you are led by the Spirit you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are plain: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.
We know about Galatians by now. St. Paul is writing these dear believers because he’s heard that there were some folks who were trying to complicate the simple message of the Gospel that Paul preached to them. These folks were trying to tell the Gentiles in Galatia that they had to be Jewish before they could be Christian. Paul tells them that’s complicating the message.
And then he tells them that the “whole law,” and by that he means the whole Jewish Law that the Jews had had since Moses gave them the 10 Commandments and all the laws they had developed around the Torah to make sure the people kept the Law, that whole law can be summed up in one, simple phrase: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” If we kept this simple (but not easy) command, we would fulfill every part of God’s wisdom for we humans. Of course now we have to struggle with the fullest definitions of two words: “love” and “neighbor.”
“Love” is simple, but not easy. Because the love St. Paul means is God’s love; not the notion of love we all too often see displayed in our world. This Love is a love that isn’t diminished by anything or any action. This love doesn’t depend on being loved in return or getting something from the object of our love. This love is a love that loves regardless of the reactions of the one loved. This love is a choice and never expects anything in return. Yeah, that’s the love St. Paul means.
“Neighbor” isn’t just reduced to the person or family that lives next door to me, but everyone who shares my common human nature. All of humanity is my neighbor, whether they like me or not; whether I like them or not. My “neighbor” is that one right in front on me in any given moment, and that neighbor is to be the object of my love BECAUSE that’s exactly how God has loved me.
Today, do you want your life to be less complicated? Don’t we all long for “the simple things?” If that’s what you desire, then the path to that place is through developing this sacrificial love that makes you like Jesus Christ, the only true Lover of Mankind!
P.S. We are in Day 2 of the “Bringing Orthodoxy to America” Evangelism Conference. And I wonder if you see the power of love in sharing your faith with your neighbor? To help you, we’ve created the 16 part video series “A Journey to Fullness” and it’s available right now by going to the Ancient Faith Store!