Monday, August 31, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 3, Verse 14

Galatians 3:14 He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.

Paul completes his argument. In verse 13, Paul shows us that its Jesus who is the key, his death on the cross being the fulfillment of the law’s requirement, and the antidote for the “curse.” He finishes the thought here with the reason whey Jesus became a curse for us – to redeem the entire world. He also connects his first argument -- the one about Abraham in verses 6-9 – with this one. Paul quoted Genesis 12:3 – God made a covenant with Abraham that “all nations” or “all the peoples of the earth” will be blessed through him. Paul connects Jesus to that promise, and the concept he laid out in verses 6-9 – that of faith. We have a nice tidy package here. In verses 6-9, Paul lays the foundation that God’s covenant with us was based on faith (and the concept of the law followed, which is discussed in verses 21-25). In verses 10-14, he shows that relying on the law, rather than faith, brings a curse, and that Jesus redeems us from that curse, and that because God had promised Abraham that the blessing of faith (see verse 9) was to go to “all nations” (see verse 8), then God always intended that “the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus.” God’s plan was always going to be to save us through his son Jesus, and to have faith be the foundation of the covenant. ( Verses 21-25 explains that the law was designed to help us live apart from sin and protect us from the evil of the world – NOT to save us).

It also shows that ethnic diversity was part of God’s plan all along. “ALL NATIONS!” That is, all the people of the earth! The Jews did not have an exclusive deal. Today, no one denomination, racial group, ethnic group, or nationality has an “exclusive deal” or the “upper hand.” God is on the move in exciting ways everywhere, even in places we couldn’t imagine. I recently read an article about a spiritual revival among the Palestinians in Gaza. We stereotypically connect the Palestinian people with Islamic extremists and terrorism, yet, there is a tremendous outpouring of God’s spirit among those folks. (There has always been a large ethnic-Christian minority among the Arab people in Palestine). That is just one small example.

Its interesting. This section of Galatians explains the basic concepts of our faith. Many scholars place this book as one of Paul’s earliest letters. He would expound on themes of salvation by faith rather than works or following the law again and again, most notably (in my mind) in Ephesians and Romans. For me, today, for any person with a living relationship with Jesus, this concept – being saved by faith and not by works – is so basic and elementary, we accept it without thinking. Yet, if we embrace the heart of this concept – that salvation is for everyone – it must cause us to radically change our attitude toward those who are different than we are. And this is not being politically correct – Oh no! It is seeing others through the eyes of God. It comes down to this – attitudes of racism or ethnic prejudice in the church fly in the face of the essence of the message of the Gospel. We need to be careful that we aren’t incrementally giving in to this heresy – becoming “foolish” like the Galatians.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 3, Verse 13

Galatians 3:13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree."

“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law” Here is the answer at last! For the first time in Paul’s theological treatise in Chapter 3, Jesus is introduced as our “redeemer.” The Jews of Paul’s days understood this concept well – the need for some kind of way to be right with God after failing to fulfill the requirements of the law. The law of Moses provided for a sacrificial system of animal blood offerings in the tabernacle/temple, but it was an imperfect system. It wasn’t complete – it had to be constantly repeated, and even then, under this system we were still doomed – for indeed falling short of the law put us all under a curse. (See Romans 8:3).

“by becoming a curse for us” Paul continues his use of the law of Moses as a proof text, here citing Deuteronomy 21:23. Again, this would have been a well known text to the Jews of Paul’s time, and the use of the term “tree” was common to the Greeks and Gentiles, understood as the pole or beam used to place a criminal in the stocks, impale him, or, for the Romans, to crucify him. In this verse and the next, Paul sums up in two succinct sentences the entirely of the Gospel. Jesus, the Messiah, the God-man, gave his own life for all of us, taking the curse we carry because we are unable to fulfill the righteousness of the law, and actually became that curse himself. By using the actual text of the law to underscore his argument, Paul proves to his audience of Jews and Gentiles who were trying to be like Jews that this was God’s plan all along.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 3, Verse 12

Galatians 3:12 The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, "The man who does these things will live by them."

“The law is not based on faith” Paul continues his second argument/proof by stating the logical conclusion springing from the previous verse. If the law can’t justify, and we are to live by faith, then the law cannot have anything to do with faith. In effect, they are opposites, at least as they relate to justification, or pleasing God. He adds proof and support to this by citing to another popular proof text from the law of Moses (his third in quick succession here in the second argument in Chapter 3), Leviticus 18:5.

“On the contrary” As if to say – “see, it says so right here in the Bible” A clever turn on the traditional rabbinical phrase “the Scriptures say . . . “

“the man who does these things will live by them” Paul is contrasting the “faith method” of Galatians 3:11 with salvation by works. Paul is citing to popular Old Testament texts and connecting them through the key words these otherwise disparate verses share – sort of like doing a comparison with a concordance. This was also a popular standard method for teaching used by the great leading rabbis of Paul’s day. Leviticus 18:5 is just one of over a dozen verses promising blessing, long life, peace, or prosperity for obeying the law. However, all of these texts relate to such blessing and long life in connection with living in the Promised Land – that is, in THIS life, rather than as it related to eternal life. The Jewish interpreters of these scriptures in New Testament times applied these texts to the life in the world to come. Paul is simply showing that this latter view is an incorrect interpretation. The Judiazers probably used this text and others like it to prove their arguments that faith alone is not enough for salvation. This, or course, is one of the classic arguments of history. Indeed, Martin Luther’s discoveries about this issue spawned the Reformation. Paul agrees with his opponents on one level – the righteousness of the law must be fulfilled, but he will argue here (in the next few verses) and later (Galatians 5:16-25) that it is fulfilled only in Christ, by having a relationship with Christ, being IN Christ, and living by His Spirit. Even today, the Judiazing heresy lives on in certain Christian circles, where an inordinate amount of emphasis is placed on scriptures like James 2:17 (“faith without works is dead”), or in a requirement to participate in sacraments or ordinances in order to be right with God, or even in churches where correct theology regarding salvation by grace is taught, but the emphasis is still on “religion,” that is, “being good” in order to be right before God. This is more than the concept that started the Reformation – it is the basic truth every person must grasp in the Spirit – that is, “I cannot be “good” and go to heaven.” Indeed, as proven here, trying to be “good,” relying on “being good” to get into heaven misses the mark. Its faith – again, a RELATIONSHIP with the living God! – that is the answer!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 3, verse 11

Galatians 3:11 Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, "The righteous will live by faith.”

Paul continues his second scriptural argument here in Chapter 3 in a logical, proof-type fashion. In verse 10, he invokes the sections of the book of Genesis (connected with the story of the life of Abraham) and Deuteronomy that call down curses on those who disobey even a very small portion of the law. (The curses are many and EXTREME – see Deuteronomy 27). Now, in verse 11, he moves on to another scripture, Habakkuk 2:4. (This was a popular rabbinical technique in those days – connecting one section of scripture to another to prove a point – this would have only enforced the validity of Paul’s arguments in the eyes of the Judaizers).

This is the next logical step. If disobedience to any small, nit-picky part of the Law means we are cursed, then its impossible to please God. (As I noted in the last entry, the Jews of Paul’s day recognized this, and did not expect perfect obedience, despite what the scriptures said about the “curse.”). Well, its at least impossible to please God through obedience to the law. Later in this chapter, Paul will explain the purpose of the Law. But here, he uses the words of the Law (a verse from one of the prophetic books, actually) to show the truth.

“Clearly” The concepts Paul is arguing for have been ensconced in the Scriptures for centuries. I also sense a bit of sarcasm – he’s using a typical rabbinical technique to twist their noses a bit, sort of like saying “the Scriptures obviously say . . ." to point out to the Judiazers that this is God’s plan – as if to say, “if you really knew the Law and God’s Word, this would be plain to you.”

“no one is justified by God before God by the law” This is the logical conclusion of both Duet 27:26, quoted in verse 10, and Habakkuk 2:4, quoted here. If one little slip up leads to a curse, then we can’t be justified through obedience – its impossible, because we’re human – we’re bound to slip up. But the answer then is “the righteous will live by faith.” Paul’s knowledge of the Old Testament is comprehensive. He has quoted the only two verses in the Old Testament that speak of righteousness and faith together. Yet, this reveals the totality of God’s plan, and connects back to Galatians 3:6, with Abraham. From the start, before the 10 commandments were handed down on Mount Sinai, God intended us to come to Him through faith.

“live by faith” Its not a set of rules, its more of the attitude of the heart – even beyond a lifestyle, it’s the essence of life. The word “live” here can also be translated as “justified” – yet, by using a word that can be translated as “live,” again, God wants to emphasize the importance and foundational concept of RELATIONSHIPS. We live by faith. We are justified by faith – but that is not faith in something abstract, or some philosophy, or creed (though we also believe in such things), it is faith in a PERSON who is God – in Jesus Christ!!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 3, Verse 10

Galatians 3:10 All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law."

Here Paul begins his second scriptural proof. In Galatians 3:6-9, Paul uses scripture – the very law of Moses – to turn traditional notions about Abraham upside down, and show that it was Abraham’s faith in God, and his relationship with God that was the key, and not his obedience to a set of rules. In turn, the concept of being a descendant of Abraham, or to conform our behavior to be like the descendants of Abraham in order to be acceptable to God is also “out the window.” In verse 10, Paul moves on to the concept of a “curse.” The Jews in Paul’s audience would have understood this well – Both Genesis 12:3 and Deuteronomy 28 contain the contrast between those who oppose Abraham, or break God’s covenant with Moses (and are therefore cursed) and those who keep the covenant (and are therefore blessed). James 2:10, and the context there, explains this even better. If a person keeps the entire law, and stumbles in one small point, he is guilty of breaking all of it. Paul comes to the same conclusion here – those who “rely on observing the law” – those who insist that matters such as circumcision, or even generally obeying cultural norms must be observed in order to be saved, are under a CURSE. In other words, it is truly impossible to please God on our own merit.

Interestingly, Jewish tradition has always held that obedience to the law is always imperfect, human beings are bound to make mistakes. God therefore (according to Jewish tradition, at least) does not require perfect obedience as a condition for salvation. Thus, grace always was a component of the Jewish system. Yet, one of the concepts the Pharisees created in the centuries just before Christ came was the “oral tradition,” a set of rules and regulations interpreting the law of Moses. The law on its own was impossible to obey --this was obvious -- but these oral interpretations supposedly made it easier to obey. For example, Jewish tradition, at least as put forth by the temple priests and Sadducees of Jesus time, held that one could not travel on the Sabbath – he had to stay at home, or within a reasonable distance from his home, because of the provisions in Leviticus 23:3 about keeping the Sabbath “where you live,” and keeping it “within your gates” in Deuteronomy 5:4. The Pharisees wanted to keep the Spirit of the law, but decided if you could more broadly define “where you live,” you could keep the law with less effort. So, some rabbis came up with the concept of tying a string or chord around the boarder of the Village, thus making the entire town an enclosure, and saying that defined “where you live.” (This sort of tricky, nit-picky interpretation actually served to complicate things even more, and was often used to the advantage of the leaders of the community at the expense of the poor, minorities, and outcasts – the sort of thing Jesus criticized the Pharisees about). So, while Jewish tradition recognized that human obedience was imperfect, the mindset was to be as perfect as possible within the context of human effort. Then, even if you failed, you could say “Hey, I was close!” But this fails to take into account the issue of the “curse” Paul speaks of here – falling short, even if you’re close, is still falling short!! The Old Testament scriptures that Paul is quoting from are very clear -- to fall short means to be CURSED! (Remember – “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law”).

This is a misconception carried by many modern Christians. Our efforts to please God cannot come from following rules, even after we accept the concept of salvation by grace. Paul will expound on this concept more in Chapter 5 – where the transformed life in Christ is a faith-walk in righteous obedience, not in lock step with rules that cannot be obeyed in the flesh no matter how hard you try.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 3, verse 9

Galatians 3:9 "So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith."

Paul completes his first scriptural argument regarding Abraham. Paul, of course, has raised this point first because the Jewish traditions recognized Abraham as the “spiritual father” of Judaism. The Jews of Paul’s time (and even today) believe Abraham’s righteous actions were imputed to the whole nation of Israel (his descendants), and that, in effect, all of Israel was saved through Abraham’s obedience. Paul has also used a common technique used by the Pharisees in New Testament times – connecting one proof text with another (here, in verse 6, he uses Genesis 15:6, and in verse 8, Genesis 12:3). In a sense, Paul is using the very intellectual traditions that the Judiazers probably used to argue their own points against them. Being a former Pharisee himself, Paul knew what he was doing. The average Pharisee-type in the Galatian audience would have respected Paul’s logic and debate techniques at least. The average Greek would have too, probably -- their philosophical tradition was also founded in logic. The applications are clear to us today – the panoply of New Testament scripture makes it seem obvious. But this was something new to first century Jewish believers. God had always intended to reach out to everyone – Jews AND Gentile --- and Paul proves this to a group of people who revered the authority of the Pentateuch (the first 5 books of the Old Testament, written by Moses) by showing them that God revealed this concept to Abraham at the very beginning of the Abraham narrative in the book of Genesis. Jews traditionally believed that the “righteous” were saved in Abraham. They also viewed this connection to Abraham as ethnic and national. The personification of “the righteous” was the nation of Israel. But here, Paul shows (in an argument that logically reflected Jewish intellectual traditions) that “believers” of all stripes, including Gentiles, are “blessed” – saved – in Abraham. Not because of Abraham himself, or what he did, but as a reflection of his example – Abraham believed; so we also believe, like Abraham, in Jesus, and it is credited to us. Later, in verse 15-18, Paul caps off the connection to Abraham,and the "credit" of righteousness through faith, fulfilled only and exclusively in Jesus.

“Man of faith” – Indeed, Abraham is a great example of what it is like to live by faith. He received a promise, and believed it, with little to support it other than his faith – his RELATIONSHIP with God. His faith-journey was filled with mistakes and episodes where he did not trust in God. But in his ultimate test – the sacrifice of his son, and therefore, the death of the fulfillment of the original promise – he knew God was telling the truth, and would be true to the promise. The Book of Hebrews indicates that he knew, even if he had killed Isaac, God would have fulfilled the promise by raising Isaac from the dead, if necessary. Abraham trusted God, because he knew God. Thus, even the example Paul uses to refute the Judiazers focuses on the concept of RELATIONSHIP! Everything involved with God’s Kingdom ultimately comes back to RELATIONSHIPS!!!!!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 3, verse 8

Galatians 3:8 "The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: "All nations will be blessed through you."

Here, Paul begins a series of proofs using Scriptures familiar to his audience here in Chapter 3.

Scripture foresaw” It was a common Jewish concept to personify the Scriptures. Paul did this in 1Timothy 5:18 when he said “Scripture says;” and it calls to mind to me when the main character in “Fiddler on the Roof,” Tevye, is always saying “the Good Book Says. .” (And, humorously, he once in a conversation with God, “As the Good Book says … hey, why am I telling YOU what the good book says? . . .”) 2 Timothy 3:16 describes scripture as “God breathed,” and 2 Peter 1:21 describes God’s word as coming from the Holy Spirit. Hebrews 4:12 goes so far as to declare God’s Word is “living and active.” This not only plays to Jewish tradition, it emphasizes the divine origin of the Bible, as well as its power. But personifying the Bible also serves to emphasize the vibrant, “alive” quality of the relationship we have with the One who inspired the Scriptures. Once again, its all about RELATIONSHIP!!!!

It is a foregone conclusion for us non-Jewish believers today that God intended to save the Gentiles through Christ, as well as Jewish people. But the Jews of Paul’s day would have had a tough time with that concept, and would have answered that statement with the addition of the need for the Gentiles to come into the obedience of Abraham’s covenant – specifically, circumcision. Paul, of course, refutes this, emphasizing the concept of salvation by faith. Yet, ironically, Paul proves his point by citing to “the Law,” the very vehicle the Judiazers claimed was the path to justification. It’s a simple, straightforward proof, that completely refutes the heresy.

Paul says the Gospel itself – the work that Jesus would accomplish through His death and resurrection – was “announced in advance” through Abraham.

“All nations” – every nationality and ethnicity – the focus of Paul’s message to the Galatians is as much on refuting racism and ethnic/cultural discrimination as it is against legalism. Indeed, the two sins go hand in hand!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 3, verse 7

Galatians 3:7 “Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham.”

Paul’s brevity is ingenious – in verse 6, he begins by asking the audience to “Consider Abraham,” and then in this verse he simply says “Understand” . . . He is using the very law the Judiazers rely on in order to refute their heretical concept. That is because the concept here of who are “children of Abraham” -- who REALLY are the "children of Abraham" -- is the central point of the Judiazers’ argument. Abraham was both the physical and spiritual “father” of the Jewish people. (He still has that moniker today – remember in Sunday School singing “Father Abraham . . . has many sons . . . .”). The Jews of Paul’s day relied heavily on this concept – it was very important, even vital, to recognize their genealogical connection to Abraham, as well as being spiritual sons of Abraham. (To properly focus this, I suggest looking at Jesus’ argument with the Pharisees in John 8:31-59).

This concept of being a “spiritual son” was perhaps more important. The concept of a great teacher, a rabbi, or a spiritual mentor was central to Jewish Culture in New Testament times. A person was considered a “son” of his mentor (in a spiritual sense) if he imitated him, if he excelled in righteousness, if he acted like his moral predecessors. A pious Jew would take great pride in both his ethnic connections to the community, but more so in his obedience to the principles and rules that defined the community.

Jesus refuted this concept in John 8, recognizing that the Pharisees were ethnically Jewish, but pointing out that they failed to “do the things that Abraham did.” (John 8:39) He ultimately showed them that both ethnicity and obedience were not the means to get to know God – in Luke 3:8, Jesus decried ethnicity by saying that God could make children of Abraham from stones if he so desired, and in John 8:44, he stated that the practices of the Pharisees made them the "children of the devil." Ultimately, in John 8:58, Jesus notes that because He is God, the connection to Him is what really matters!

Because of these traditional views about ethnicity and obedience which are embodied in the concept of being “children of Abraham,” Jews would have never used that term to describe a Gentile. The only way to be a “child” of Abraham was to convert to Judaism, and obey the law—that is, follow in Abraham’s spiritual footsteps, so to speak. Paul uses scripture here, from the very law of Moses the Judiazers insisted must be followed, to prove otherwise – those who BELIEVE are Abraham’s spiritual offspring. This turns Jewish tradition (at least the tradition the Judiazers thought they believed in) on its head. But again, if you connect this concept to what Jesus was arguing about in John 8 – the key is not pedigree, or obedience, or in identifying with a group (even, dare I say, a particular denomination, theological system, or church)– its in a RELATIONSHIP with a living person, indeed, the living God – the great I AM!! (See John 8:58).

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 3, verse 6

Galatians 3:6 “Consider Abraham: "He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”

Paul now begins to argue against the Judiazing heresy through theological and historical examples familiar to his audience and credible to those who valued a strong identity with the law and “Jewishness.”

“Consider Abraham” Paul’s reference is to one of the greatest pillars of the Jewish faith, and cites to Genesis 15:6 (which, as part of the Pentateuch, would be considered part of the “law of Moses,” and was in and of itself a well known proof text that Jews relied on to explain how Abraham was a model for how faith should work). Just as in Galatians 2:17, Paul ‘s presentation about salvation by faith is echoed in the book of Romans, where, in Chapter 4, Paul expands on this same verse in explaining the concept of "salvation by faith." (Its interesting – Galatians has been traditionally dated earlier than Romans – most scholars estimate by about 10 years – so it would seem that Galatians served, in part, as a “first draft” of many of the principles Paul expounds upon in the one book of the Bible (Romans) that probably encapsulates the life changing message of the Gospel more than any other).

Using Abraham as the prime example is important. Abraham was the model for all Pharisees, because Abraham served God from his heart, and not from obligation, which (despite indications to the contrary in the Gospels) was the essence of what the Pharisees tried to teach. Abraham destroyed idols, and stood up for God’s truth. But even more important, Abraham was a convert! He had lived as a gentile, and had accepted circumcision as his covenant sign after he committed his life to God. Abraham therefore was the model for all Gentiles who converted to Judaism – Abraham led many, many others to convert, accept the covenant of circumcision, and live under God’s law. Jewish tradition held that it was Abraham’s faithfulness to the covenant that led to the “credit” of righteousness, and some Jewish traditions went so far as to believe Abraham’s faithfulness was supernatural, and helped cover the sin of later generations. From the time of Abraham, there was always a hint of the concept of grace, or unmerited favor before God, but Jewish tradition always tied this to obedience in the covenant. But using Genesis 15:6 as his proof text, Paul will show here (and again, in Romans 4) that Abraham’s faith was the precursor of the Gospel, and the concept of “salvation” (in Genesis 15:6, "righteousness") for Abraham was fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 3, verse 5

Galatians 3:5 “Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?”

“Does God give you” The word “give” here should be underlined. Its so simple, yet, its really the key. Everything that comes from God is a gift, and cannot be earned. Yes, there are rewards and blessing that come from obedience, but even the ability to walk in holiness and in accordance with God’s Word is a gift. The transformation of a changed life, being set free from a life of sin, this does not come from human effort, but through the Holy Spirit (Paul delves into this more in Galatians, Chapter 5).

“his Spirit and work miracles among you” There is no other way to interpret this, as I see it, -- the Galatian churches were actually involved in the supernatural gifts – the “charismata.” The emphasis on these concepts here show that it was a major part of the normal Christian experience. I see the phrase “Spirit and work miracles” as everything the New Testament defines as “charismatic,” People's lives transformed from within, operating in the motivational gifts (Romans 12:6-8, i.e. Prophecy, serving, teaching, encouraging etc.), operating in the manifestational gifts (I Corinthians 12:7-11, i.e. words of wisdom or knowledge, faith, healing, tongues, etc.); the gifts of office (Ephesians 4:11, i.e. prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers, apostles – the “five-fold” ministries); and, by emphasizing it separately, there must have been tremendous miraculous power displayed among them. Is Paul saying that the gifts and miracles are indicative of the normal Christian experience? On the one hand, I think this is true (and I find it ironic that my NIV Study Bible, prepared by scripture scholars who come from very conservative traditions who no doubt do not recognize the legitimacy of the charismatic gifts ignore this verse in the footnotes). I don’t think that miracles or gifts are the barometer of our experience in the Kingdom, or that to be a Christian one needs to experience them, but it is clear here that these things come from God, are a GIFT from God for us to use, and the implication is that they were available to everyone. Paul is not saying that charismatic experience is required for Christianity. He is saying, however, that because the Galatians had been transformed by such experiences, that because many of them had experienced miracles (the word here is the same one used for the gift of miracles in I Corinthians 12), and they had all received this from God by faith, how could the go back to following the law -- how can they go back to believing one needed to "be good" in order to "be blessed?" How can anyone “deserve” to experience such things? Again, this is an appeal to personal experience. Part of the validation of Paul’s argument is, indeed, an appeal to the Galatians’ collective history in Christ, and to Paul’s history with them. It is an appeal not to feelings or opinion, but to the objective evidence of God’s work among them, and to the history of the RELATIONSHIP in the kingdom, which finds validation in God’s word.

The emphasis on the miraculous also helps buttress the argument against the Judiazers as far as ethnicity goes. Miraculous manifestations were purportedly a common part of pagan religious practices of the day, but such experiences were limited to or reserved for certain “holy shrines” or “exalted leaders.” You had to be in the right place, or part of the “upper crust” to experience them. In Jewish circles, it had been hundreds of years since God had been manifesting his power on earth before Jesus came, and the traditions of Judaism had reserved such miracles for “heroes”” of the faith, such as Moses or Elijah, not for regular folks. On the contrary, the Holy Spirit can be manifested anywhere, in anybody! Miracles, this verse implies, were very common. You don’t need to achieve a certain level, or be of a certain group, or know the “secret handshake” – you simply have to believe, to become a child of God. Yes, the gifts can be abused (see most of the book of First Corinthians), but we’re all human. The Abuse of God’s gifts, or the gifts manifested in less than perfect people do not invalidate them. Indeed it further proves that the kingdom is really available to ANYBODY!

Galatians Journal: Chapter 3, verse 4

Galatians 3:4 “Have you suffered so much for nothing-- if it really was for nothing?”

“Have you suffered so much for nothing?” As in 3:2, Paul is appealing ot the Galatians’ personal experience in Christ before he delves into his theological arguments and defenses; as in verse 2, the ultimate underlying rhetorical question here is “Are all your experiences in the Kingdom of God a lie?” In verses 2 and 3, he appealed to the evidence of the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives. Here, the appeal is to suffering -- the suffering the Galatians had experienced for their faith, both individually and collectively.

There is no indication here, or anywhere else in the book, what this suffering consisted of. The narrative regarding Paul’s initial contact with the Galatians shows that originally, the people were deeply steeped in Greek native mythology (Paul and Barnabas had even been revered as human incarnations of Hermes and Zeus after performing miracles in the midst of the Galatian people – Acts 14:8-18). Later on, Jews who had tried to thwart Paul’s missionary work at earlier stops on the First Missionary Journey arrived and “won the crowd over.” (Acts 14:19a). This resulted in Paul being stoned and left for dead! (Acts 14:19b)! Thus, from the outset, the Galatian churches must have been plagued with pressures from the outside, particularly involving pious Jews who saw this "new religion "as a threat. Whether the pressure came from the worshippers of Zeus, devout Jews, or the Roman authorities, there were powerful anti-Christian forces at play in Galatia.

I think therefore we can presume this “suffering” involved persecution of some type. It must have been severe, or Paul would not have noted it like this.

“If it really was for nothing.” Obviously, the persecution must have brought forth a great deal of fruit – the “furnace” forged a mighty work. Otherwise, this argument wouldn’t mean much. If the Galatians had gone through so much, and those difficulties had lead to so much good, to so much growth in God's Kingdom, how could they just “chuck it all” and give in to the source of that persecution (the Jews in the area, I presume, from the Acts 14 account)? Verses 2-5 combine together to show that a changed life really is one of the best arguments for salvation by faith!!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 3, verse 3

Galatians 3:3 “Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?”

“Are you so foolish?” On the one hand, this seems like a slightly softer admonition than Galatians 3:1. Rather than accusing the Galatians of actually being fools, after laying out his initial argument regarding their own experiences, he offers them the sense that “Come on, this can’t be true, can it?” On the other hand, in the context of Paul as the master of the rhetorical question, its as if he’s saying, “You can’t be THAT stupid, can you?”

“After beginning with the Spirit” Paul never denies that the Galatians had an authentic relationship with Christ, or had not laid a proper foundation. I don’t think this was part of the Judaizing heresy either. Its all part of the subtle lie, both in terms of the issue of salvation-by-works and of the need for “ethnic purity.” You can be a Christian, but you’re not a true Christian, a “total” Christian, unless you achieve this objective moral perfection, or adapt to the proper ethnic culture. Both are lies, but very similar lies. They both involve a focus on people, rather than God, and an obsession with ourselves, rather than focusing on the RELATIONSHIP with God. But the subtle effectiveness is in the half-truth. The Judiazers accepted that the Galatians were indeed Christians, and on the right track. They just needed “more.”

“trying to attain your goal” This is more of the same sort of thing. The word for “goal” can also be translated as “perfection” – indeed, many other translations render it as “perfection.” Many cults, especially religions that are “Christianity Clones,” i.e. cults based on Christian concepts – have this as their central message. By obeying the rules, or gaining some sort of “secret knowledge,” one can reach perfection. The heretics here insisted that we are not complete Christians unless we followed the Jewish law. Traditional Jewish theology recognized that salvation was through grace (noting the great difficulty for anyone to achieve complete compliance with the law), -- but to reject the law? Discard it? Promote the concept that one need not follow it? To do so meant one was certainly lost. The ethnic implications are even more insidious. Under a works-based theology one rejects Christ on the cross. At the same time, to insist on embracing one form of ethnicity over another is to reject the work of Christ as Creator, for it is a rejection of who God made us to be. In either circumstance, there is a spirit of anti-Christ. For all you “Left Behind” fans, I’d be willing to bet that two of the things the Anti-Christ of the book of Revelation (the real one, not the fictional one in the novels) will do is establish a religion based on both obedience to a set of rules, AND conforming to a cultural norm.

“human effort” literally, in the Greek, it is the “flesh.” This is a common term in the New Testament that refers to our human nature in its unregenerate state. It would have been a “dirty word” to both the Jews and the Greeks in the Galatian cultural mix, for it implied weakness – moral weakness. It cannot be emphasized enough – trying to achieve oneness with God or entry into God’s kingdom via works or human effort (e.g. circumcision) or identifying with a particular cultural group is part of life in the “flesh.” This is, pure and simple, an indication of unregenerate weakness!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 3, verse 2

Galatians 3:2 “I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard?”

“. . . learn just one thing” I think Paul’s use of this first phrase is more than just a debating technique. In the rest of Chapter 3 and on into the following chapters, Paul will argue his point from a theological perspective, using examples from Old Testament scripture, specifically the law of Moses, and in particular the life of Abraham. But first, he appeals to matters of personal experience. The Galatians were certainly more than just marginal Christians. They had “received the Spirit.” They had been baptized in the Holy Spirit! I presume this meant all that went along with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit – both the charismatic manifestations and the inner transformation/life change discussed in more detail in Galatians 5. Paul is therefore presenting the totality of his argument, at least at the front end, as an appeal to personal experience in the Holy Spirit.

"I would like to learn just one thing from you" -- he's saying, rhetorically, “tell me one thing – “ as if to say, “is what you experienced a lie? Were those manifestations of the Holy Spirit's power NOT real?” Now, many evangelical apologists will argue against manifestational gifts (in Greek, "charismata"), using theology. They will argue that we can’t use experience, or what we feel to justify miraculous manifestations. But Paul’s statement here in verse 2 is not an argument to justify the concept of “trust your emotions,” or at least to do so at the expense of God’s Word. Paul’s admonitions regarding the proper use of the charismatic gifts is laid out in detail in his first letter to the Corinthians. No, I believe what Paul is saying here is simply that the free gift of the Holy Spirit, the power of the Spirit that transformed the Galatians, and the authentic experiences the Galatians had already had in Christ were enough proof in and of themselves that work-based theology is a lie. (For if our own experience shows us that God is a God who bestows his forgiveness, gifts, and life changing power in our lives when we don’t deserve it, and those experiences are authentic and objectively quantifiable, then how can we then be expected to perform up to some standard in order to “earn” them?). Paul expounds on this further in the next few verses. But the living example of the Holy Spirit at work in our own lives, when we are sinners, should be enough proof on its own to close the book on this argument.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 3, verse 1

Galatians 3:1 “You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified.”

Paul abruptly shifts gears here. Besides Galatians 1:6-12 (where Paul also at least partly admonishes the Galatians believers for giving in to the Judiazing heresy) most of the material in the first two Chapters of Galatians is directed at refuting the heresy, either through direct argument, or the example of Christ’s transformational power in Paul’s own life. He also places most of the blame for the problem on the Judiazing heretics themselves (Galatians 1:8-9). Chapter 3 continues the argument against the heresy, but the focus has changed. Paul opens Chapter 3 by declaring the Galatians are “foolish, ” and Paul will use his power of persuasion to not so much refute the Judiazers as to convince the Galatians themselves of the depth of their own deception. And isn’t that the best way for the Holy Spirit to win us over? Sometimes, we are convinced when we are show “the fact” about sin – the objective truth. For example, someone who grew up a Mormon can be shown the facts about the life of Joseph Smith, and the truth of how the Book of Mormon was produced, and discover the whole LDS religious system is a fraud. But merely debunking a lie we once believed to be true usually only produces skepticism. We need more than proof that lies are not true; we need convincing in and of ourselves that we need God, and what the truth really is. Otherwise, we’re still “fools.”

The general spiritual condition of the Galatians must have been pretty poor – they obviously had really bought into the lie of the Judiazing heresy. Paul’s use of the word “foolish” here does not mean mental deficiency, but rather implies a lack of perception – a childishness, an irresponsibility. Conditions are so bad, he asks “who has bewitched you?” Obviously, we know who, Paul is referring to the outsiders, the Judiazers. Or is he? Could he mean something deeper? The term here for “bewitched” is literal – it refers to the casting of spells or the concept of the “evil eye.” Paul also references the charismatic gifts in the next few verses. He seems to be suggesting that demonic forces are at the root of this issue. When we consider the broad overview of all these issues, the spiritual warfare implications are pretty obvious. Satan wants us to believe in a works-based theology. He also wants us to believe that ethnicity defines who we are in God. Both are lies from the pit of hell.

“Before your very eyes, Jesus was portrayed as crucified.” Did the Galatians see the crucifixion? Were any of them eyewitnesses to Jesus’ death? While possible (Galatians was written approximately 20 years after the death of Christ), its unlikely. Yet, the Greek word translated as “portrayed” literally mans “to publicly display or placard.” Its like hanging a picture in an art gallery. How was this done “before their very eyes?” Who or what “portrayed Christ as crucified” to the Galatians? All we need to do is go back a few verses to Galatians 2:20. It was Paul! This is "portrayal" in the same sense as an actor portraying a character on stage in such a way as to be totally believable -- we are seeing the "real thing" presented before us. When he explained the concept of being “crucified with Christ” and the miraculous, powerful transformation this brings in our lives, he is writing in the first person. Again, the emphasis is on RELATIONSHIP – the relationship of Jesus with us, of Paul with the Galatians, of the Galatians with each other. It also implies that the faith transformation via Christ’s death and resurrection is achieved on a personal level – in intimacy, not through following a formula or being a particular ethnic background. As an aside, the use of the word “portrayed” also helps direct the argument back on the Judiazers. It recalls the bronze serpent Moses set up for display in Numbers 21:9. The same word that is translated as "portrayed" here would be used to describe that historical event that was such a big part of Jewish tradition, and Paul's Jewish listeners would have understood that connection. Jesus made this same connection in John 3 when he referred to himself being “lifted up.” This would have helped drive home the “faith connection” with those who would argue the need to follow the law.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 2, verse 21

Galatians 2:21 “ I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!"

This final verse of Galatians chapter 2 ties up this “argument” section by giving the answer to the proposition Paul made in chapter 2, verse 15 and the question posed in verse 17. Paul’s target audience here is Gentile converts, but he has also got to be speaking to the Judiazers as well – who, by the way, were also believing Christians, as in they had accepted Jesus as their Messiah. This last fact/truth is important for the final answer here to the argument. Paul had started with his criticism of Peter (verses 11-14), for Peter’s hypocrisy -- Peter was by his actions advocating the Judiazer’s position that one needed to follow the law to be acceptable to God, while he himself did not follow the law (see Acts 10:9-44). Paul then points out that despite all this, the law is impossible to fulfill (verses 15-16). He then refutes the concept that an emphasis on faith, rather than the law, leads to immorality (v. 17) by presenting the truth that a living relationship with Jesus transforms us through the power of his death and resurrection. (verses 19-20). Verse 21 brings the argument back to the Jewish Christians. The Jews of Paul’s time generally had a traditional belief in the grace of God. They believed that only if a Jewish person was manifestly disobedient to the law was this favor lost. They were “children of Abraham” – and were saved by the fact of their “ethnic connection,” unless they violated the law in a major way. To be kind, one could argue that the Jewish Christians were simply upholding this tradition when they insisted that Gentiles conform to their own pattern and follow the law. But here, Paul pulls the rug out from under them. The Judiazers believe in grace, but Paul points out that he, or any other Jew, will “will set aside the grace of God” if they rely on the law, or impliedly, rely on ethnic or cultural heritage. Then he plays his logical trump card – if Jesus, as Messiah, knew that righteousness could be obtained on our own strength at any level, they why did he have to die? The whole purpose of Jesus coming into the world (expounded on in verse 20) becomes a nullity. The conclusion guts the very essence of the Judiazer’s position – for if you accept their argument, we should all just become Jewish, and Christianity, and Christ’s sacrifice, is useless.

But this final statement of Chapter 2 does more than simply refute the arguments about the law, but one about ethnicity as well. As I said, the Jews believed that by birth, by heritage, they had a ticket to heaven, that could only be “lost” by gross disobedience. Gentiles traditionally could only get their own ticket by converting to Judaism, and following the law in all its detail. Paul’s final statement/argument shows that Christ leveled the playing field, and Jew and Gentile have equal access to God’s grace exclusively through Christ. If righteousness comes via Christ alone, then ethnicity or culture has no bearing on who we are in God. That issue had been nailed to the cross!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 2, verse 20

Galatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

The Judiazers would have recognized the connection with death and the law’s system of animal sacrifice for atonement. But the Judiazers were also Christians – they had accepted Jesus as the Messiah. Here, Paul makes the ultimate connection with the concept of death. Christ’s crucifixion is the atonement for all sin. His resurrection power conquered death, and set us free and empowers us “to rescue us from the present evil age” (Galatians 1:1& 3). Death and resurrection are the foundation of our faith, and the ongoing theme of our walk with God. In verse 20, on of the most oft quoted verses in Scripture, Paul makes those concepts real and personal. Jesus died for our sins; in our union and relationship with Him, we also die to the law, and die to sin. Jesus rose from the dead; we also are united with Him, but the “me” that rises from the dead is not “me” any longer. I am new – a new creation. The power that drives us, the force that allows us to breathe again – is Jesus living in us. The last sentence of verse 20 states the logical conclusion. The life I live “in the body” that is, my life on earth today, I live by faith in Jesus. This is the reality that refutes verses 17 and 18. The Judiazers central argument was that following the law was necessary in order to live a moral life, pleasing to God. In verse 18, Paul shows that no matter how hard we try to follow the rules, that will not happen. We will fail – guaranteed. But here in verse 20 is the answer! Christ’s death and resurrection!! “I live by faith in the Son of God.” We ourselves die spiritually, and live anew by faith. We are able to live in holiness and sanctification by faith, and the power of Jesus, “who loved me and gave himself for me.” This last phrase may be the most important. Once again, the theme is RELATIONSHIP. The effectiveness of God’s plan is not based on a formula or a set of rules, but on a personal, intimate relationship with God—initiated by Him!! He loves US!! He made the sacrifice! Everything is summed up by this most important RELATIONSHIP with Jesus! That is what delivers us from death, sets us free, and empowers us to live a life of righteousness not on our own strength, but relying completely on God, and His Grace! It is truly, and most indeed truly, “Jesus, only Jesus!” “Jesus, all for Jesus!”

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 2, verse 19

Galatians 2:19 “For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God.”

Paul now introduces the concept of "death" to the argument. He expounds on this more in Romans 7, where he uses marriage as the vehicle to explain – we are married to our spouse until they die, then we are free to re-marry. We must die to the law so that we can be free of it. The Law itself required a death, in the Temple’s sacrificial system, and the Judiazers would have focused on that concept.

“Through the law, I died to the law” Verses 17 and 18 make it clear that a person cannot himself fulfill the law – the implication here in verse 19 that trying to fulfill the law on our own strength leads to death. But once we are dead to the one concept-- like the concept of the death of a spouse as explained in Romans 7 -- we are free to live for the other “so that [we] might live for God.”

Friday, August 14, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 2, verse 18

Galatians 2:18 “If I rebuild what I destroyed, I prove that I am a lawbreaker.”

Verse 18 closes the loop started with the previous verse, verse 17. Paul’s arguments about how some might conclude that relying on faith for salvation rather than a moral code leads to immoral living is designed to refute the Judiazers at the foundation of their own argument. The tone here is different than in Romans 7, or even later in Galatians 5, where the heresy or deception is with those who already recognize salvation is by faith and the grace of God, and used the argument of faith vs. law as an excuse to justify immoral behavior. The focus here is different. The Judiazers apparently recognized that Jesus was the Messiah and that His death was required for our redemption. But they also insisted on the continued need to follow the law. Part of the reasoning behind this was that the Law was designed to keep us on the right path – away from evil – to set God’s people apart from the wickedness of the world. A foundational point in the Judiazer’s argument would be “without the law, and relying on faith rather than the rules of the law, will lead to immoral behavior, for the law defines moral behavior.” It’s the inverse of the argument Paul refutes in Romans 7, which was “I’m free of the law in Christ, therefore I can do whatever I want.” Paul refutes both of these arguments here, first in v. 17 (by being a little sarcastic) he's pointing out that to argue that reliance on faith for justification will lead to immoral behavior leads to the ridiculous conclusion that Jesus promotes sin, or, at least faith in Jesus will promote sin. It also admits to the concept that we are all sinners by nature, and that we are bound to fail and make mistakes as we go.

This latter concept is continued here in verse 18. “If I rebuild what I destroyed.” If we go back to relying on the law for justification, the result is the same, the conclusion does not change – “I prove that I am a lawbreaker.” In other words, I am a sinner by nature. All we prove by trying to rely on the law is that we will invariably break the law. It seems hopeless, then, doesn’t it? Taken by themselves, verses 17 and 18 seem to say – “We seek justification by faith, and we discover we are still sinners. We follow the law, we prove we are still sinners.” Will we ever change? Where is the hope for freedom from sin? The rest of Galatians 2 is a snapshot of the theology of how Christ changes us from sinner to sanctified – as indeed the rest of the book of Galatians does as well. But Paul starts his presentation in the negative, I believe, to set up the concept that reliance on the law for salvation fails, in order to refute the Judiazers outright. Indeed, the dramatic emphasis of Galatians 2:21 is the ultimate refutation of this argument.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 2, verse 17

Galatians 2:17 “"If, while we seek to be justified in Christ, it becomes evident that we ourselves are sinners, does that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not! “

Paul begins an explanation here very similar to the more detailed presentation in Romans 7. This is very much like the statement “shall we sin that grace might abound?” made famous in the book of Romans. But here, Paul seems a bit more subtle. “While we seek to be justified” indicates a sincere heart – even though the Galatians were struggling with sin in their midst, and particularly these ethnic divisions, Paul is making it clear that at the base, they were not hypocrites – they were earnestly seeking the Lord. (I also see in the context of the discussion about Peter’s shortcomings in the verses just before this, this serves as a recognition that Peter wasn’t to be written off – He too was “seeking to be justified in Christ,” and had also been influenced by evil forces, much like the Galatians).

“It becomes evident” this indicates a sense of discovery.

“We ourselves are sinners” We all fall short. Paul may be employing his trademark sarcasm here. Then again, he is simply stating the truth. In our humanity, we all fail, fall short, and are prone to sin. He has held Peter out as a living example of this – a sincere believer who has acted wrongfully. Jesus does not “promote sin.” “ABSOLUTELY NOT!” Paul is beginning what serves in this book the same purpose as the entire concept of Romans 6,7 and 8 does in that book – we walk in holiness and sanctification by faith, by grace, dependent on Christ’s work and not on our own. In the context of the kind of sin that the Galatians are struggling with, this also means that we will discover that while we diligently seek Christ, we will deal with ethnic and cultural differences – Jesus does not promote these either! But as the subsequent verses show (especially verse 20) total reliance on Jesus and the finished work of Christ is the only way to overcome those issues.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 2, verse 15 & 16

Galatians 2:15-16 "We who are Jews by birth and not 'Gentile sinners' 16 know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.”

Verse 15 seems full of sarcasm. After pointedly addressing Peter’s blatant hypocrisy, regarding Peter’s failings in observing the law, Paul continues by referring to himself (included rhetorically within the entire Jewish people) as a “Jew by birth” as opposed to a “Gentile Sinner,” as if Paul is also playing into the Judiazing heresy. But Paul is merely setting up his continued attack on Peter’s hypocrisy, as well as the hypocrisy of all those who advocated the Judiazers' position.

Verse 16: Paul lays out the truth of the matter by emphasizing it in triplicate. First he points out the truth of the matter from the time the law had been given to Moses (“we who are Jews by birth”), that is, that justification does NOT come via “observation of the law.” This is not to say that the law is a failure, or inherently bad (see Romans 7:12, where Paul says the law is “holy, righteous, and good”). Rather, the law cannot be used for an improper purpose. Here, that improper purpose is the effort to try and prove that following the law is the grounds for acceptance by God, or implying that the law is the plumb line used to exclude all non-Jewish people from the kingdom of God simply because they are indeed not Jews.

Paul’s emphasis changes as he restates the concept three times. First, its stated as “not the law, but faith.” Second, he states it in the framework of placing our faith in Jesus, so we are justified “by faith, and not by the law.” He changes it into a positive statement. Faith in Jesus supercedes all else, all other efforts. His last statement doesn’t mention faith at all, but simply re-emphasizes the fact that the law cannot serve to make us acceptable to God.

This, of course, is the essence of the Gospel. Verse 16 could almost serve as the thesis statement for the entire book. But in keeping with the underlying concept we have been emphasizing (racism and ethnicity) it speaks to the sincere Christian who struggles as the Galatians obviously were. The ancient Jews did actually believe in grace, and salvation by faith – the book of Genesis speaks of Abraham being justified by faith – but they gradually developed a sense of distinctiveness and exclusivity based on their own concept of nationhood and community. This was not entirely a bad thing – it helped preserve the sanctity of God’s people, and protected them against the wickedness of the world. When Jesus came, the sincere Jewish believer recognized that the faith that justified Abraham was fulfilled in Christ. Yes – Jesus was the one they had waited for, and in order to enter God’s Kingdom, you had to believe and have faith in Him. But what about this question of the Gentiles?

The practical reality for the Galatians as Paul argued was the truth that everyone is justified by faith on the same terms. Everything else is “extra.” Today, we use cultural plumb-lines to define what is “acceptable,” and we demand that outsiders be “justified” by a similar standard. This is the great sin of our modern age and our American society, and is no different than the hypocrisy of Peter discussed here in Galatians Chapter 2.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 2, verse 14

Galatians 2:14: “When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all, "You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?”

“When I saw” It’s interesting that Paul appears to not have noticed this right away – the implication is that he pieced together the evidence over time. Perhaps he thought the matter had been settled when he had been in Jerusalem in Galatians 2:1-10, especially when it came to what Peter believed. Also, if racist attitudes are what is at the root of the issue, its not something that the person who believes it openly espouses – its very subtle – so much so, that even Paul’s partner in ministry and good friend Barnabas is drawn in to this web of deception. (see v. 13). I have a sense that Peter was staying in Antioch, relating with Paul and fellowshipping with Jews and Gentiles alike, and it took awhile for Paul to discern exactly what Peter was doing, and what was going on. It is so easy for any of us to be drawn into this concept – either to buy into the heresy, to believe that we are defined in God’s sight by our culture OR to be fooled by those who buy into the sin, to not notice it is there. This second situation is perhaps as bad or worse, because the deception is tricky, and, like the “other Jews” of verse 13, we too can be subtlety led astray, sometimes without even realizing it!

“they were not acting” Once the blinders are removed, however, the evidence is clear. Jesus cautions us in Matthew 7:15 that we recognize “false prophets” by their fruit. Whether it was simply this issue (probably) or maybe Paul also noticed other issues where Peter’s behavior was not in keeping with God’s truth. Either way, he was discovering enough to put all the evidence together, and realize what the issue was.

Paul confronts Peter “in front of them all.” This shows how serious this really was. Traditional Jewish piety called for such reproof to be offered in private. Jesus echoed this in Matt 5:23-26, and especially in Matthew 18: 15-17, where Jesus instructs us to go to a brother who is sinning in private. But Jesus also says that if the brother does not respond, the matter is to be considered by the entire church, and then, if the brother will still not listen to the whole church, he is to be treated like a “pagan or a tax collector.” Here, Paul has already brought this issue to Peter and the church authorities previously, in private, and there were at least two public debates on the subject (Acts 2:27-30/Galatians 2, and Acts 15), so the matter had been submitted to the entire church. Paul was arguably justified for the public rebuke.

Paul was crafty and wise in the way he confronted Peter as well. He points out Peter’s hypocrisy. Peter was a Jew, but he did not necessarily live according to Jewish customs. The whole concept of accepting Gentile believers had started with Peter, back in Acts 10:9, where God showed Peter that following the Jewish dietary laws wasn’t necessary for salvation or acceptance into the broader Christian community. In Galatians 2:17, it says that Peter “ate with the Gentiles,” showing that Peter did not follow Jewish dietary tradition. Peter was living a double standard – demanding that Gentiles who didn’t know the law to follow it, when Peter, a Jew who had been brought up with the law, didn’t follow it anyway. And isn’t this the heart of ethnic judgments and prejudice? We look at those on the “other side,” be it race, ethnicity, culture, or denomination, and demand they conform to us, though that is almost always impossible, yet, we ourselves aren’t living up to God’s standards for our own lives. In particular, we would not want to be judged for who or what we are – yet, here we are, doing it. Hypocrisy is also at the roots of racism. Combine this with “justified” fear (safe neighborhood, good schools, housing values etc), and we allow ourselves to keep a facade of “righteousness” when in reality we are rejecting the core of the Gospel. This is indeed the most insidious of deceptions!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 2, verse 13

Galatians 2:13 “The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.”

The fear we discussed in the entry on verse 12 is shown here to be so very rampant – so widespread, that “other Jews” (those not in line with the Judiazers) and even Paul’s close associate in the ministry, Barnabas, were swayed into following this issue of excluding the Gentiles during table fellowship. This spirit of fear, in whatever form it takes, in whatever issue that causes us to be afraid regarding ethnic issues, is an insidious, evil enemy!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 2, verse 12

Galatians 2:12 “Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group.”

Here is the reason why Paul confronted Peter – “certain men came from James” Are these the same men who “seemed to be important” in Galatians 2:6? Regardless, these are the same types “bewitching” the Galatians (3:1) – those who would claim that one must follow Jewish law and tradition in order to be right with God. Here is a “new” tradition – “new” in the sense that its different from circumcision, Sabbath, and feast day issues – the issue of table fellowship. It was an established Jewish tradition that a practicing Jew was not supposed to share a meal with those who were ceremonially unclean. This had been a big deal with Jesus in his dealings with the Pharisees, who were critical when the Lord fellowshipped over a meal with “blatant sinners.” Here the Judiazers were now arguing that Jews shouldn’t share a table with Gentiles, because technically, the non-Jew was obviously “unclean” under the law. Obviously, this is “clearly wrong” because of its blatant ethnic discrimination – it made all non-Jewish Christians second class citizens, creating a caste system in the church. But we need to remember that the whole social construct of the early church was that of a “house church” system. Folks met in peoples' homes -- worship services were in your living room or dining room (indeed, there is little historical evidence that meetings were held in big, auditorium type settings like we are used to today until the time of Constantine, when Christianity was adopted as the official religion of the Roman Empire, and they had to do SOMETHING with those old pagan temples, now vacant . . .). Gatherings of Christians in those days invariably centered around a meal. Even more so, such gatherings also centered around a new tradition instituted by Jesus – the Lord’s Supper. By adopting this position, the Judiazers were basically excluding Gentiles from their worship. Indeed, this is “clearly wrong.” In Peter’s defense, he did not participate in this because he agreed with the Judiazers in principle – he did so “out of fear.” When it comes to the issues of ethnic divisions in our churches and communities, this is where all of us usually wind up – we’re afraid to boldly cross ethnic lines, afraid that “our group” will reject us, or we’re afraid of being hurt or rejected by the “other group,’ or we’re afraid of the unknown, or afraid just because of our own prejudices. It is the spirit of fear that drives ethnic issues – things like “white flight,” fear for our safety, fear for our children, our property values, even just about our traditional way of life. Fear is the spiritual gatekeeper here. It is the first line of battle in the war against racism and ethnic prejudice.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 2, verse 11

Galatians 2:11 “When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong.”

After the Galatians 2/Acts 11:27 visit Paul paid to Jerusalem, Peter later comes to Antioch, which was Paul’s home base during his missionary period. Where this fits into the time line is unclear, but while it follows the “famine visit,” it probably is after the Acts 15 Council as well. Paul’s righteous sarcasm is evident here. He refers to Peter by his Greek name, “Cephas,” rather then as Peter – implying a connection to his Galatians constituents, and to contrast with Peter’s sense of Jewish superiority here. Paul states he opposed Peter “to his face;” confronted him head-on – directly, because he was “clearly in the wrong” about this issue. (As an aside, it would also indicate an obligation to confront leaders when they are “clearly in the wrong,” But we need to be careful – the word is “clearly.” Here, Peter was acting in a way that clearly went against God’s word, and the direct revelation of the Holy Spirit to Paul that had been confirmed by Peter himself! This was much more than a difference of opinion! Some might also find some fault here with Paul in him not following the admonition of Jesus in Matthew 18:15-17, that is, to take matters of offense to a brother privately first. But Paul had already taken care of this -- the whole Acts 11:27 visit described in Galatians 2 had been a "private" meeting on this very issue, and was settled. As noted in the previous parenthetical, it had also been settled in a way where Peter had confirmed Paul in his ministry and purpose. Paul really had no choice here but to confront Peter openly.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 2, verse 9 & 10

Galatians 2:9-10 “James, Peter and John, those reputed to be pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the Jews. 10. All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.”

(I didn’t have time to finish verse 9 last time, so I’ll wrap up verse 9(b) and then move on to verse 10)

“They agreed” This "they" appears to be all the leaders, including those who would have sympathized with the Judaizers. On the one hand, the agreement that Paul should minister to the Gentiles, and the other apostles to the Jews could be considered a compromise position – not unlike the compromise arrived at during the Council in Acts 15:29. It could viewed as a grudging acceptance of the Gentile believers, and an ongoing system of spiritual “apartheid” – at least for the time being. Well, perhaps that’s too strong a statement. The compromise in Acts 15 seems to recognize there are certain cultural matters the Jews will never accept in the Gentiles, or that in order to preserve unity in the church, the Gentiles had to compromise too. The compromise here in Galatians 2 might be a similar concept – an agreement to keep the ministries separate and distinct for expediency to allow both factions to flourish without “offending” the other.

That might have been the practical result, and (as we see later in the discussion of Paul’s confrontation with Peter) there may have been some residual ethnic bias in the apostles. But I really think this is actually a recognition of divine calling. Paul’s purpose in God’s Kingdom was to minister to the Gentiles. Paul was doing this because God told him to do this – this is confirmation coming from the leaders and authorities over Paul in the Church.

Every Christian and every church congregation needs to have a similar encounter and experience. Once we hear from God about our gifting, our passion, our vision, and we begin to walk in obedience to fulfill it, we will be tested, and we will need to submit what we’re doing to spiritual authorities God has placed over us. Invariably, if we’ve heard from God, the authorities will confirm our calling, or at least guide us in a path that will lead to the confirmation of our calling. This happened at my church (Spirit of God Fellowship in South Holland, Illinois) years ago, when we were considering merging with another local congregation (our “urge to merge” phase). The authorities we were submitted under confirmed our vision and outreach to the poor and disadvantaged (today, one concrete example of how this vision has manifested itself is in Restoration Ministries in Harvey, Illinois), and released us to continue down our path of a more “radical” Christianity, rather than merge with a more traditional church. Like Paul, our vision was confirmed and more firmly established.

Verse 10: The “bottom line” commission the elders in Jerusalem gave to Paul was basically “keep doing what you’re doing, but don’t you dare forget to keep helping the poor.” Here is good advice, and a sobering thought for any church or individual. This is a ministry litmus test. If what we are doing in the Kingdom of God doesn’t have an impact in some way on helping the poor and needy – “remembering the poor” – then perhaps we aren’t hearing from God. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a “hands on” ministry to the poor, but I believe it must be a real impact. Paul’s whole reason for being in Jerusalem in Galatians 2 is famine relief (see Acts 11:27). This is the essence of the Gospel message. Without it, we are simply “navel gazing.”

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 2, verse 9

Galatians 2:9 “James, Peter and John, those reputed to be pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the Jews.”

First, Paul mentions James, Peter and John by name. He says they were “reputed to be pillars.” This sounds like he’s being at least a little disrespectful. But this would be out of character for Paul, as we discussed in the entry regarding Galatians 2:6. He is contrasting and connecting the concept of “reputation” with the view of “those who seemed important” – that is, the Pharisee types who were insisting on following the Jewish law and customs – in Galatians 2:6. What he is saying is that the Judiazers accepted James, Peter and John as “pillars.” He even lists James first, who was the leader of the Jerusalem church, a sort of backhanded way of saying the most “Jewish” of the apostles, the Lord’s own flesh and blood brother (James was technically Jesus’ half brother (he was Jesus younger brother, a son of Mary and Joseph) and thus a living example of the importance of ethnicity to these people) James was in Paul’s corner. The “pillars” of the church gave Paul and Barnabas (he mentions both again, remember, its RELATIONSHIPS that are important), the “right hand of fellowship.” This is an idiomatic phrase common to that time, this was more than a greeting or welcome – this was like getting the key to the city, or taking a picture shaking the President’s hand – its official recognition, like signing a treaty. This was done because the “pillars” recognized “the grace given” to Paul. The tangible, incontrovertible indicia of God’s work in Paul and among the Gentiles was the proof – what God was doing in and through Paul was real. The fruit was enough; the reality tipped the scales. This is still true today. The proof of changed lives, the reality of relationships established in the unity of the Holy Spirit, and the ministry of God in outreach to help the poor and needy (see verse 10 below) is the proof in our society that our unity is real, based on our relationship in Jesus, and NOT on ethnicity, tradition, nationality, denomination, or custom.

(We'll continue verse 9 next time).

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 2, verse 8

Galatians 2:8: “For God, who was at work in the ministry of Peter as an apostle to the Jews, was also at work in my ministry as an apostle to the Gentiles.”

SIDENOTE: Before we start on an analysis and meditation on Galatians 2:8, I did some deeper research into the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15, which was discussed at length in the previous entry on Galatians 2:7. Many scholars believe that the visit to Jerusalem Paul speaks of in Galatians 2 is actually an earlier visit Paul made to the city at the center of Judaism and Christianity – the “famine visit” of Acts 11:27. This makes a lot of sense, in that in the Galatians 2 visit, Paul submits the issue to the elders in private – a situation not borne out by the Acts 15 account. This also appears to fit into the chronology of New Testament history more conveniently. If we plot this out on a time line, Paul was born about 5 AD (between 6 BC and AD 10); Paul had his conversion experience around AD 35; his time in the Arabian desert in Galatians 1:17 would be from about AD 35-38; Paul’s first trip to Jerusalem (the two week stay in Galatians 1:18-19, Acts 9:26-29) took place around AD 38; Paul’s ministry in Antioch and Syria was in AD 38-43 (Galatians 1:21; Acts 9:30); the Galatians 2 visit to Jerusalem would fall in AD 43 or 44; then Paul’s first missionary journey (including establishing the Galatian churches) in AD 46-48; the letter to the Galatians would have been composed around AD 48/49; and the Acts 15 Council would have occurred after the writing of Galatians in AD 49 or 50.

This makes sense. I don’t think it changes any of the basic concepts I have meditated on or discussed in previous entries when I considered the Acts 15 Council coincided with the Galatians 2 visit. The Judiazing/ethnic issue was still the “hot topic.” The issue of Paul’s attitude toward authority did not change. Even in a private audience with the elders, he probably had to deal with a faction that argued against him, though probably not James or Peter or any of their peers.

Now back to Galatians 2:8: Here is the evidence why these issues were unimportant, that is, why issues of ethnicity are so unimportant. “for God was at work” This was what the Pharisees in the Church could not deny, here in Galatians 2, and later in history, at the Council in Acts 15 – the same power, the same miracles, the same manifestations, the same concept of faith and repentance, the same Holy Spirit, the same gifts, the same fruit, the same harvest – its was all plainly evident among the Jewish Christians -- and now also the Gentile believers. The final conclusion of Peter at Cornelius’ house, and at the Jerusalem Council were the same. God had chosen the Gentiles, too. God is at work among them. In Acts 15, James also points out that his is a fulfillment of prophecy involving the Messiah. Ethnic unity is a sign of the coming of the Messiah!! (See Acts 15:15-19, where James quoted the prophecy from Amos 9:11-12, where the Lord promises to "rebuild David's fallen tent," and that "the remnant of men may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who bear my name.") Can this also be true, today, for the second coming of the Messiah? That supernaturally inspired ethnic unity is a sign of the soon return of Christ?

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 2, verse 7

Galatians 2:7: “On the contrary, they saw that I had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles, just as Peter had been to the Jews.”

First off, here is support for the premise that Paul is not referring to the leaders/authorities of the Church (e.g. Peter, James, and the other Apostles) in his criticism of “those who seemed to be important” which we discussed in the previous verse –

“they saw” They needed to recognize Paul’s ministry in the same light as Peter’s, that Peter was already the apostle to the Jews. In the context of Paul’s reference, Peter would not have needed to make a realization about his own ministry. Paul was referring to others – the Judiazers.

This comparison/contrast between Paul and Peter as having opposite commissions – Jew and Gentile – serves to support the notion that Paul is speaking either about the Judiazers, or, more likely about the collective decision of the entire council. If we look at Acts 15, its hard to place the concept of what is traditionally referred to as the “Council at Jerusalem” in the context of Galatians. What is really going on here?

Acts 15 states that the Judiazers had attempted to teach their heresy at Antioch – Paul’s home base church. Paul and Barnabas came into sharp disagreement with these men. The local church at Antioch appointed Paul, Barnabas, and others as a delegation to meet with the leaders at Jerusalem. It is unclear whether the Acts 15 Council was called specifically for this purpose, or was some other type of gathering (an annual “convention?” a meeting in conjunction with one of the major Jewish festivals?) where Paul and Barnabas happened to raise the issue.

Regardless, God knew what he was doing, and had a plan. Acts 15 reads like Paul and Barnabas were sort of “on tour,” sharing the concept of their ministry to the Gentiles and the victories and “good news” they had experienced in reaching out to the Gentile world. When they arrived at Jerusalem, they were welcomed with open arms by not only the leaders and apostles, but by the entire church there (Acts 15:4). Paul’s ministry was evidently favorably received by most of the believers in Jerusalem.

Meanwhile, Galatians 2:2 shows that Paul went with a personal agenda, revealed by the Holy Spirit. In this, Paul was told by God to submit his ministry to the church elders/apostles – privately. Verse 3 reveals that the apostles affirmed Paul’s work. But then, if the Galatians 2 visit took place at the same time as the Acts 15 visit, Acts 15:5 goes on to show that a second public debate ensued. Acts 15:6 states that the elders met “to consider the question.” Peter then publicly affirmed Paul’s mission. Acts 15:12 – “the whole assembly became silent” as Paul and Barnabas spoke. If there is a connection with Galatians 2:7, this is it – the “they saw” was the entire Council. The Church at large, in Jerusalem, came to accept that there was a ministry to the Gentiles.

But did they like it? And did they, or could they overcome past prejudice and offense and accept the Gentiles as equals and “full brothers?” The footnotes here in v. 7 reveal that the original text uses the word “uncircumcised” when Paul refers to the Gentiles, and “circumcised” when he refers to the Jews. I believe Paul knew that even with the favorable result of the Council, the underlying attitude of the Jews was still one of prejudice – well, at least with some of them. You can almost feel it drip from Paul’s words here – the Judiazers had been silenced at the Council and begrudgingly accepted that Paul had a ministry to the “uncircumcised.” But the implications were, well, “they’re still not as good as we are.” Its very subtle, but its there. This is, of course, one of the major issues facing the church in America, and here in the Chicago area today. We can accept the fact that God is moving among the churches of other races, or different traditions than our own, but deep down, we believe they’re not as good as we are, no quite equals. Thus, the heresy Paul is fighting against in the Galatian churches is alive and well today, in perhaps (at least for us) a more subtle, but no less insidious form.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 2, verse 6

Galatians 2:6 “As for those who seemed to be important-- whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not judge by external appearance-- those men added nothing to my message.”

“those who seemed to be important” It seems at first blush that Paul is belittling the authority of the church leaders at Jerusalem. While it is quite possible that Paul is using biting criticism or sarcasm as he regularly did in his letters, it is out of character for him to express arrogance or to speak against God’s established authorities. It is even out of character for this chapter of scripture; Paul's whole reason for traveling to Jerusalem in the first place is he had staked his entire vision and mission on the judgment of the leaders of the church at Jerusalem. If he respected them enough to give them the final word regarding whether he had “run [his] race in vain” (see v. 2), why would he be speaking so apparently callously here? Perhaps he is not directing his comments here to Peter and James. In v. 2 he spoke of those who “seemed to be leaders.” Here, it is a similar reference “those who seemed to be important,” Acts 15:5 references a group of former Pharisees who argue for the Jewish rules and traditions as requirements for salvation, to be a "proper Christian." This is followed by “much discussion.” (Acts 15:7). In the end, however, the leaders vindicate Paul, as they “added nothing to [Paul’s] message.” It would therefore appear that Paul is addressing the prominent Pharisee/Judiazers who held a lot of influence in the Jerusalem church community, and at the Acts 15 Counsel. In light of the underlying theme of ethnicity being the issue in the Galatian church, the parenthetical comment inserted in the middle of v. 6 makes more sense – what they WERE (as in whether they were Jews, Greeks, or whatever ethnic group -- in my community we would be arguing over African American versus Caucasian versus Hispanic, or traditional mainline Protestant worship style versus the newer interdenominational "praise band" worship style) -- this all makes no difference, for God doesn’t judge by mere outer appearances. Of course, considering Acts 23:5, where Paul retracts his rebuke of the High Priest when he was before the Sanhedrin, simply because of the High Priest’s position, Paul never would have spoken so blithely of the leaders in authority. This doesn’t stop him from being critical when he feels they’re in the wrong (see later in chap. 2, regarding Peter). But I don’t think this is aimed at the church elders, but at those who were pushing those same elders to adopt this heresy and practice institutional racism.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 2, verse 5

Galatians 2:5 –“We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might remain with you.”

Paul is adamant that the truth was never compromised in this situation. Later on in chapter 2, we will see that even the Apostle Peter, the undisputed leader of the church at Jerusalem, gave in to the social pressures and ethnic prejudice of this heresy. But Paul refused to do this – “not for a moment” -- And the given reason for his commitment to the truth here is (once again) the issue of RELATIONSHIP – Paul’s relationship to the Galatian Christians, and their relationship with God and with each other. I find this extremely refreshing. For all the power of theological principle that emanates from this book – the practical effect of the Gospel message is to strengthen relationships.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 2, verse 4

Galatians 2:4 “This matter arose because some false brothers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves.”

Paul discusses the motivation behind the Judiazing controversy. He begins by defining and identifying the culprits as “some false brothers.” Does Paul mean that these mean were not real Christians? Its hard to read between the lines here. “False brothers” could be “wolves in sheep’s clothing,” evil men with evil motives, with the emphasis on “false.” Yet, he refers to them as “brothers.” Can an authentic, born again Christian be this deceived? And then, be so “evangelistic” in his deception? I think the answer is yes. When I consider the Christian traditions in which I was raised (Roman Catholicism), a mainline traditional church that presented an obvious implication that faith alone wasn’t quite enough – that good works must accompany faith, that participation in a sacramental theology is vital to be right with God, and that Church tradition is just as important as God’s Word – I understand how a deception like this can take hold and flourish. And I’m not just picking on Catholics, either. Even in many evangelical churches, an emphasis on what we must “do” can bring a subtle paradigm shift in the way we think about God. I imagine it is quite possible for a believer who is sincerely seeking after God, recognizes Jesus as the Messiah and son of God, and is serious in his commitment to serving God could be overshadowed by the concept of clinging to ethnic or religious traditions that are either not important or even contradict the truth, or can’t come to grips with the concept that no good thing that they could do could ever be enough to please God – to save, or sanctify them. I have known many Catholics who were obviously born again Christians, who loved God, and had a living relationship with Him, yet were vehemently committed to the sacraments and traditions of the Catholic church (even some that appear to be obviously anti-scriptural to me) and defended them as necessary, even vital for a complete relationship with God – sometimes, to the point of being necessary for salvation. Many of these folks were passionately evangelical about things that were uniquely “Catholic,” trying to draw others in. (The same can also be said for the non-essential doctrines, customs, and traditions of any Christian church. For those of you who don’t have any experience with Catholicism, you can look to your own traditions. Think of the “traditional hymns” vs “modern praise chorus” controversy in some traditional Protestant Denominations today). I imagine the origin of the Judiazing heresy in Paul’s time wasn’t much different. Add to this the strength of the Jewish cultural identity, and its traditional aversion to anything in Gentile culture, and this concept is amplified.

Indeed, Paul uses the phrase “some” with “false brothers.” Perhaps the origin of this heresy was with people who were not true Christians, whose motives were to tear apart the work of God, and then it took root in people like those I have just described.

These false brothers “infiltrated” – you couldn’t tell they were there, or couldn’t tell them apart from the others in the church. Paul says they were there to “spy on” the church. The footnote states that this word is the same one used for a military spy. The real source of this heresy was Satan – in a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” mode. The real tragedy here is this is not like the Corinthian church, where a lot of issues were related to immoral people trying to excuse their immoral behaviors by wrapping it in the cloak of respectability within the context of Christianity. In Galatia, we have Christians who in all other ways are upstanding, good, moral believers, expressing their love and devotion to God in all that they do, yet, they purposefully reject an entire segment of God’s people on the basis of their ethnic background.

Paul ends the verse by saying that these false brothers had the goal of taking the Galatians’ “freedom” and turning them into “slaves.” This is the key concept of the entire book. The “freedom” here –or deliverance from slavery – is multifaceted. It is freedom from the bondage of rules and the impossible goal of pleasing God by what we in and of ourselves can do; it is Freedom from the Law, and its inability to save us; it is freedom from the bondage of sin (see Galatians 5 in particular) and deliverance from that bondage into a life of freedom in the Spirit; and it is freedom from the walls that divide us – nationality, ethnicity, tradition, even perhaps the issue of personal taste – so that we can truly fellowship with one another and have that RELATIONSHIP with God, and with each other.