The Pirates Curse

The 5th instalment in the Pirate’s of the Caribbean series hits the theatres May 26 and I’m sure the film will do well. Johnny Depp is a cool bloke who probably pulls off the whole pirate thing better than anyone.

The film series started in 2003 with Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. The plot, in short, is that the crew on the Black Pearl took the cursed treasure of Cortés from Isla de Muerta (the Isle of the Dead), in the hopes that the treasure would satisfy their wildest dreams. Ironically, as a result, they were cursed with “undeath”, appearing as heavily decomposed corpses in moonlight who were incapable of being satisfied. To lift the curse, they needed to return all 882 gold pieces.

The pirate Barbossa described the curse like this …

“Find it, we did. And there be the chest… and inside, be the gold. We took them all! Spent ’em, traded ’em and fritted ’em away, for drink and food and pleasurable company… but we came to realize, the drink would not satisfy, food turned to ash in our mouths, nor the company in the world would harm or slake our lust. We are cursed men, Miss Turner. For too long I’ve been parched of thirst and unable to quench it. Too long I’ve been starving to death and haven’t died. I feel nothing. Not the wind on my face nor the spray of the sea. Nor the warmth of a woman’s flesh.”

Instead of satisfying their empty souls, the cursed treasure only intensified their cravings. They needed more gold. More wine. More sex. They found themselves damned, disintegrating and dissatisfied  … forever. In other words – a living hell.

The premise for the Pirate’s curse un not unlike what Paul describes in like Galatians 6 …

Galatians 6:7-8 “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.  For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.

Paul uses sowing and reaping to illustrate an absolute spiritual principle because sowing and reaping is an absolute agricultural principle. It’s probably worth noting that contrary to the claims of the prosperity preachers, Paul is not presenting sowing and reaping as an absolute financial principle.

Paul didn’t spend 5 chapters carefully parsing the law and the gospel, arguing for justification by faith alone and inviting the church to live from the rich implications of gospel freedom because of their union with Christ to take an inexplicable right turn at the end of his letter to say, “Oh by the way  – got a financial need? Sow a seed into my ministry!”

Paul preached that your justification before God and the assurance of your salvation came through Christ’s life & work alone.

The religious leaders preached that your justification before God and the assurance of your salvation came through Christ’s life & work – PLUS your life and your work.

“Sowing to the flesh” and reaping corruption

Paul wants the church to live in gospel freedom and so he stresses importance of habits (sowing and reaping) that will reinforce gospel freedom – not earn it. The way Paul constructs this part of the letter, he doesn’t leave room for us to think we can go through life and not be sowing.

The flow of the letter reveals that we’re all trusting in something so “save” us – that is to say, find ultimate fulfillment, meaning and belonging in. As a result, our hearts are like compasses constantly being drawn in direction of that thing.

Habits (the things we repeatedly ‘sow’ towards in life) are not formed primarily by a cognitive process in our minds, but by the appetitive drive in our hearts. Paul is reorienting the church toward the grace of Christ that not only had the power to rescue them – but has the power to reform their wayward appetites.

Like the pirates curse, the human soul is in a state of unrest, looking for peace because of sin. As Augustine put it in Confessions, You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”

So we need more gold. More wine. More sex. More validation. More acclaim. More followers. More toys. We tell ourselves that once we get that thing, we’ll be happy … until we discover the next thing is calling, promising rest to our restless hearts.

So we sow to the flesh, chasing and worshipping little gods, hoping they will somehow justify and save us.

Now, while that kind ofsowing to the flesh’ would describe rebellious Corinth – this is rule keeping Galatia.

The Galatians weren’t suffering from the restlessness that comes with liberalism – but legalism. They sowed to their flesh in a different way. The “Galatian pirates curse” looked like a life of unrest under religious guilt of “you’re not doing enough.[1,2]

Paul prefaced talking about sowing and reaping with the words, ‘Do not be deceived” because the Galatians were deceived. They believing that their works for God validated Christ’s work for them. [3] 

Good news: The gospel boldly announces that everything God required from us in His perfect law, He provided for us in His amazing grace.

It’s possible to bring the exhausting curse of the law back into our churches by teaching that biblical application is the vehicle for redemption. This was the source of Paul’s scathing criticism of the false teachers. The purpose of the God’s law was to point Israel to their need for a Saviour. The false teachers made law keeping the saviour.

If law keeping is our saviour, our pulpits and our dinner tables will carry the same tone as those false teachers in Galatia …

Whatever your doing, you should do more. Whatever you’re giving, you should give more. How ever many programs your church is running, you should offer more. You think you’re growing? You should grow more. You think you’re applying the scriptures to your life? You should apply them more.

Under the regime of law-keeping, the message of Christianity becomes: God wants more from you. Sunday becomes a gathering where we hear what we need to do more of. That message might not ever be explicitly taught in our pulpits, but where Christ ceases to be central, it’s implicitly caught in the pews.

Before you sound your antinomian alarms, I wholeheartedly believe that those who have been rescued by the grace of Christ should endeavour more and more to imitate Him. No question. Love God & neighbour?  Amen. Care for the poor? No question. Justice and mercy in the city? Evangelism? Engage the skeptic? I’m there.

What I’m hoping to shine a spotlight on here, is that we must present Christian disciplines like prayer and scripture meditation as bread that nourishes us in God, not teach our churches and our children to sow to their flesh and turn Christian disciplines into barter with which they will attempt to leverage God. [4]

“Sowing to the Spirit” and reaping eternal life

This statement emphasizes Paul’s appeal throughout his entire letter: “You are justified by Christ alone – enjoy and glorify God from your rest in gospel freedom!”

So, how do we “sow to the Spirit?”

The problem in Galatia that provoked Paul to write the letter was that they were “sowing to the flesh” by habitually turning to things that they thought would justify, rescue and ultimately fulfill them. Sowing to the Spirit then, is habitually turning to God who by His grace is the one who justified, rescued – and then uses our continual turning to continually reform and fulfill us.

It’s worth remembering that Paul does not tell the Galatians to produce the fruit of the Spirit in chapter 5 – because they can’t do that, but instead tells them to sow to the Spirit in chapter 6 – because they can do that.

God does the rescuing, the renewing and restoring.

We do the repenting – which means “turning”.

Good news: the call to repent is an invitation into grace. The direction of our “turning” is where our rest, renewal and restoration is – in God’s grace.

God’s goal in having us “sow to the Spirit”, is to have us turn away from our self sufficiency and rest in His sufficiency.

His redemptive purpose in having us sow to the Spirit runs far deeper than simply aiming to get better behaviour from us – He uses this sowing to awaken our true identity in us.

We have been rescued by the grace of Christ and are now united to Christ. That union has vast, liberating implications in how we approach life each day.

By sowing to the Spirit in our repentance, prayer, meditation and worship, we are no longer hostages to circumstances, because our joy & peace aren’t tethered to the need for our circumstances being favourable.

We are free to enjoy every good thing in our lives because our gospel promise has liberated us from the need to turn them into ultimate things. We can have great hope in sorrowful things because our gospel promise reminds us that in the end, He will restore all things.

So friend, we continue as we began – by grace. Let us continually turn toward the Spirit of God’s great grace.

Press on,


[1] Galatians 3:1

[2] Galatians 2:15-16

[3] Galatians 2:21

[4] “bread vs barter” distinctions adopted from from Dr. Brian Chappell, professor of hermeneutics, Knox Theological Seminary, senior editor for the Gospel Transformation ESV bible commentary & author of “Christ centred Preaching”.

One Comment on “The Pirates Curse

  1. Pingback: Links I Like, Vol. 58

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