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!

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