Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 4, Verse 15

Galatians 4: 15 What has happened to all your joy? I can testify that, if you could have done so, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me.

“What has happened to all your joy” The restraints and burdens of a legalistic worldview/lifestyle are a drudgery. There is no freedom. There is constant pressure, day to day, minute by minute, as one has to prove himself worthy of God. Life is one endless struggle “to obey.” It is not unlike the oppression of being under the rule of a totalitarian dictator – fear becomes our motivation, not love. The concept we’ve been emphasizing over and over again in this letter – that of a living RELATIONSHIP – is non existent. There is no living relationship – just rules that can’t possibly be obeyed, no matter how hard we try! (see Galatians 3: 10-14). And the real tragedy here is that the Galatians once had the “joy” – they had the freedom that only comes through Christ, they had a viable relationship with God – but had thrown it all away. Sadly, this also seems to include throwing away their relationship with Paul. How ironic! The legalistic approach to God not only robs us of joy, is not only a drudgery – it isolates us from God and the proper, healthy relationships we need. I think this is because the ultimate focus of legalism is on ourselves, rather than on God. Further, when we also factor in the concept that the Judiazing heresy had its roots in ethnic prejudice -- i.e. being Jewish was "better" then being Greek – we know that using such a philosophy and belief as the foundation for living cannot result in anything but hatefulness and bitterness. The “joy” is indeed gone – nonexistent.

“I can testify that” Paul is using legal terminology again, as he did throughout chapters 3 & 4. This emphasizes not only the truth of Paul’s message, but the sincerity in his argument.

“You would have torn out your eyes to and given them to me” Many interpreters of this passage see this statement as indicative of the kind of “illness” Paul is suffering from in this section of the letter. Was his “illness” some sort of oozing eye sore, or cataracts, or some other issue relating to his eyes? Considering Paul’s activity in the book of Acts, this scenario seems unlikely. While Paul complains in another part of scripture of a “thorn” in his flesh, his ability to write and communicate was not an issue (although Galatians 6:11 might be an indication that Paul’s vision was suffering!) But this sort of language was common in the ancient Greek world. Its hyperbole. In Greek culture, friendship was always associated with the concept of sacrifice (I suppose that’s really true in ALL cultures). This is a dramatic phrase indicating that the Galatians had been willing to give up that which was most precious to them for Paul’s benefit. Paul is simply reaffirming the deep bond he once had with the Galatians, and how this relationship, this deep love, was reciprocal. It’s like saying they would “go the extra mile” or would “cut off their right arm,” etc. (As a side note, the Greek word that is translated here as “torn out” is used in Mark 2:4 to describe the process that was used to tear open the roof of the house Jesus was in to lower the paralytic man in so Jesus could heal him. A rather graphic description! It is also indicative of the sincere dedication of one brother in Christ helping another).

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 4, Verse 14

Galatians 4:14 Even though my illness was a trial to you, you did not treat me with contempt or scorn. Instead, you welcomed me as if I were an angel of God, as if I were Christ Jesus himself.

Paul continues in his more personal, heartfelt testimony regarding his past relations with the Galatians.

"Even though my illness was a trial to you” Obviously, whatever Paul’s infirmity had been, it was serious enough to be a burden, or at least a grave concern. But Paul is impliedly complimentary—even grateful to the Galatians because they did not treat him “with contempt or scorn” because of his illness. It was quite common in the ancient world to view physical illness as a curse or punishment by God (or “the Gods” if one was a pagan). Even Jewish tradition often viewed sickness as divine retribution. But the Galatians obviously received Paul, illness and all, with a welcome heart. He was received as an “angel of God.” The original Greek world for “angel” here was also commonly used to identify human as well as supernatural messengers – “angel” literally means messenger. And in ancient times, a messenger was received as the representative of their sender. For example, a messenger bringing a letter from the King would traditionally be given a "kings welcome."

Here Paul is received as God’s angel – God’s messenger. This is interesting, considering how Paul entered the city of Lystra, one of the chief cities of Galatia, as told in Acts 14: 8-13. After healing a man who could not walk, Paul and Barnabas were hailed as the Greek Gods Zeus and Hermes in the flesh. Indeed, Paul was hailed as Hermes, the messenger of the Gods! Of course, Paul makes it clear that the Galatians, at least once they received Christ, welcomed Paul not as a Greek God, but as if he were a messenger of Jesus.

As an aside, Acts 14 may give us a clue as to the nature of Paul’s illness. In Acts 14:19, amid the tumult of the confusion over this whole “Greek God” episode, some of the Jews in the area “won the crowd over,” and Paul was stoned, dragged outside the city, and left for dead. The healing process from such an ordeal would have taken a long time, and Acts 14:21 (and so on) outlines a journey back through the Galatian cities Paul had just traveled through, building up the churches. This would have necessarily taken a lot of time – perhaps years even – and Paul, in his injured, frail, recovering state, would have had the opportunity to establish deep ties with the Galatians.

But in relating and reminiscing about how Paul and the Galatians established their ministry together, there is a sad undertone. “You welcomed me” – yes, at the time Paul first came to Galatia, the new Christians there did not view his physical problems as God’s judgment, but took care of him joyfully (see the next verse regarding the concept of “joy”) and “welcomed” him as Christ’s true representative. BUT – the implication now is the “welcome” is strongly in the past tense. Something has changed. The influence of the Judiazers has caused a change in attitude. Paul no longer feels “welcomed.” In verse 16, he sees himself as he perceives the Galatians are seeing him, as an enemy. Paul is obviously deeply saddened by all this. The importance of RELATIONSHIP – here, a lateral one, between fellow believers in Christ – is vitally important to the Kingdom concept, and comes shining through.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 4, Verse 13

Galatians 4:13 As you know, it was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you.

The “illness” Paul mentions here is never specifically identified. On the basis of Galatians 4:15, and later on in 6:11 (where Paul identifies the handwriting on the letter as his own, in such large letters) many scripture scholars believe that this was some sort of problem with his eyes, or that Paul struggled with poor vision. Some scholars suggest something more serious, such as malaria or epilepsy. There is no mention of illness in the Acts 13 & 14 account, so we can only speculate as to what this means. The literal Greek word here for “illness” or “infirmity” (as the KJV translates it) could mean a physical ailment, or it could mean wounds, impliedly the result of physical persecution. Whatever it was, it was obviously serious enough to cause Paul to stay over in the Galatians’ region for some time in order to recuperate.

Another angle to consider is the ancient Greek’s attitude towards physical illness or infirmity. The stoic philosophers believed that illness should not affect one’s ability to function, so if we are to take the accounts of Acts 13 & 14 in tandem with this passage, Paul still actively functioned in his ministry, despite his illness. That would have scored him points with the “Greek” people among the Galatian congregations. As a side note, at least one of the commentaries I have consulted notes that southern Galatia (the area Paul was traveling through in Acts 13 & 14) would have had the ideal climate for recovery from illness. Indeed, this region was famous through the ages because of its “health benefits.” God knew what he was doing by having Paul “lay over” with the Galatians.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 4, Verse 12

Galatians 4:12 I plead with you, brothers, become like me, for I became like you. You have done me no wrong.

So far, Paul has spent the bulk of his energy in this letter in criticism. Its aimed either at the evils of the Judiazing heresy or at the Galatians themselves for succumbing to it. His focus has been on theology or the personal testimony of events which occurred in his own life, rather than on any shared experience with the Galatians. Even when he briefly appealed to the Galatians’ own experiences (3:1-5), it was to criticize them for believing in the lie of this heresy.

Here Paul shifts to a much more emotional and personal tone. While he is critical, even disappointed in what has happened to the Galatian churches, he doesn’t want to break fellowship with them. He still has a sense of hope. He cares deeply for them. The RELATIONSHIP side of he equation, here, is now played out in Paul’s own personal interactions with the Galatians, and the concept is clear – He truly loves them!

First off, he uses the term “brothers.” This term has been used elsewhere so far in the book (e.g. 1:2, 3:15), and of course indicates that Paul considered the Galatians his fellow believes in the truest sense of the word. But some versions translate this word as “friends.” The implication of this concept is important. In ancient Greek culture, a “friend” was a social equal. Of course, Paul occupied a place of authority in the lives of the Galatians. The Romans had a concept of the “Patron,” a lord over a group of dependents. But a Patron has a relationship with his charges – a true friendship. Paul is not speaking to the Galatians merely as their teacher or master, but as a peer.

“I plead with you.” A passionate, heartfelt plea for a change of heart. In his plea, we see Paul’s heart, and his notion of friendship.

“become like me, for I became like you.” When Paul says “become like me” he is speaking of himself as a Jew who has been set free by Christ from the bondage of Jewish ritualism and tradition. He is speaking as a living example of what the Galatians are trying to be. They were trying to embrace ethnic Judaism – Paul’s been there, done that, and knows from personal experience that it doesn’t work. Not that being Jewish or ethnically Jewish is a bad thing, no -- but dependence on or identification with Judaism, or any culture for that matter, cannot bring us any closer to God. When he says “I became like you,” Paul is speaking of becoming like a Gentile. Because of his freedom in Christ, Paul lives his life separated from the world of law. His day to day practice, therefore, is just like the Galatians lived, at least as far as their Christianity was concerned. They had been delivered from the bondage of pagan idolatry. There might be some ethnic differences (language, music style, dress etc.), but the basic concepts were the same. Paul had really changed more than they had.

In addition, though, the underlying implication here is EQUALITY. The Jews are not better then the Greeks, in faith, in culture, in anything. Greek culture is not better either (through this was apparently not the issue in Galatia, but it is implied as an issue in the early verses of Chapter 4, and the Greeks themselves also traditionally had an air of superiority about them, regarding the Jews, and especially regarding the Romans). The pagan culture (here, Gallic) is not better. Paul himself as a spiritual authority is not “better” than they are. When Paul says, “I became like you,” he means he relates to the Galatians as equals , and not only as their spiritual father, as indicated in 4:19.

“You have done me no wrong.” Paul is not offended by what has happened. Indeed, he is about to emphasize the tender relationship he has shared with them; the closeness of that relationship. As we have seen, over and over, the Kingdom of God is all about RELATIONSHIP.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 4, Verses 10 & 11

Galatians 4:10 You are observing special days and months and seasons and years!
(11) I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you.

Paul is criticizing the Galatians for exchanging the leading of the Holy Spirit for the tradition of following the calendar. The Jewish law and traditions are full of these, corresponding to each of Paul’s examples here in verse 10. “Special Days,” e.g. the Sabbath or the Day of Atonement (see Leviticus 16: 29-34); “months and seasons” e.g. new moon festivals (Numbers 28: 11-15, Isaiah 1:13-14), Passover (Exodus 12:18), or First Fruits (Leviticus 23:10); “years” e.g., the Sabbath year (Leviticus 25:4). None of these (in particular, the Day of Atonement) had ever been, could ever be, or would ever be in and of themselves a means of salvation or sanctification. Yet, the Pharisees meticulously observed all these to gain merit before God. But there’s even more here. Paul is suggesting that by returning to the ceremony of the calendar, the Galatians are returning to pagan bondage under the "spirits of the sky" referenced here and in verses 3 and 9. Jews, of course, would be offended by this – they felt Judaism and paganism had little in common. (Maybe the pagans would be offended too, but the issue in the Galatian churches was a drive to make everyone ethnically homogeneous under Jewish culture). But in a practical sense, the Jewish reliance on tradition and custom was no different than a pagan mindset. In both cases, the comparisons in verse 9 with a return to slavery, or going back earlier in Chapter 4, with the image of an adult going back to the guardianship of a child is appropriate. This is taking a step backward. Also a reliance on formula or our own efforts, negates the need for a personal relationship with God, which is always the ultimate goal of the promise. Its like the implied mistake the older brother made in the parable of the prodigal son. The older boy was offended when his history of good works and service on the family farm was not ostensibly good enough to “earn” a celebration from his father. But what the father wanted was a relationship – and the younger son, the prodigal, despite his sin, had availed himself of the promise and re-established the relationship with his Dad. The essence of Paul’s proofs and argument seems to always boil down to that concept – there is a need for a dependence on a RELATIONSHIP with God.

This argument regarding the emphasis on “special days” seems rather timely (I originally made this entry in my journal around Christmas time, so while it is currently in late September, I was originally thinking and meditating on these issues in late December or early January) with the recent controversy over some churches canceling their Christmas services so folks could spend time with their families. A lot of folks who are more on the conservative side in the evangelical community criticized this – it “wasn’t right,” and to do so would not"find favor" with God. Paul would seem to have a different view. Is it more important to follow tradition, and emphasize a “special day,” or emphasize the concept of relationship, with God, and with one another?

VERSE 11: An exasperated Paul appears to be giving up on the Galatians. But, as we will see in the next section, this is really genuine concern. There is also a connection here between Paul’s sense of “wasting his efforts” or as some translations put it, “laboring in vain,” with the prophets of the Old Testament, who had similar frustrations bringing their message to the nation of Israel. See Psalm 73:13, Isaiah 49:4, and Isaiah 65:23. Even God seemed to feel his judgments were “in vain” when the nation of Israel refused to return to Him (see Jeremiah 2:30). The image was always that of a great labor expended with no return because of the listener’s obstinacy (see Philippians 2:16, and Thessalonians 3:5) or the ineffectiveness of the message (see I Corinthians 15:2, 14,17, 58). Paul is experiencing both here. Anyone who ministers to people understands this concept.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 4, Verse 9

Galatians 4:9 But now that you know God-- or rather are known by God-- how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again?

Paul’s tone here is turning sarcastic. “now that you know God – or rather are known by God.” This is a similar tone to how Paul started Chapter 3, when he called them “foolish” and “bewitched.” Ostensibly the Galatians knew God – in that they had a solid foundation, and a real, authentic relationship with God through Jesus Christ (see 3: 2-5). But this little rhetorical flourish calls this concept into question. Paul seems to imply that perhaps their “knowing” of God is not very deep, in that God seems to know them better than they know God.

“turning back to those weak and miserable principles.” These “principles” are different than the matters discussed in the first 3 chapters. This is more than just going back to practicing and observing the Jewish law. The Galatians were Greek by ethnicity, or Gallic (transplanted from Central Europe by the Roman authorities) so had originally been pagans prior to coming to Christ. The Greek words translated as “principles” here is translated as “elemental things,” “elements,” even as “spirits” in other English translations of the bible. The original Greek implies an over-arching concept – it’s the “elemental things” of all religions prior to the coming of Christ, or of any false religion, really. These “spirits” would be the spirits of nature, the false Gods they use to worship as pagans, in particular the “astral” spirits – the “sky Gods” – which Paul first referenced in Chapter 4, verse 3. These “Gods” also had special feast days and holidays, similar to the feasts and holidays of the Jewish calendar. (see 4:10). This is interesting. What seems to have happened to the Galatians is a full circle regression. They started out as pagans – having no knowledge of the true God. Paul and Barnabas brought the Gospel message to Galatia – the Holy Spirit was poured out, and many of the Galatians came to Christ, and a solid, thriving church community grew, with lots of unity, despite a wide range of ethnic diversity. Then came the Judiazers, who were trying to sell the message that the Galatians needed to become a Jew both religiously and culturally to be ‘truly Christian.” Many in the Galatian churches bought into this heresy. Paul focuses on the evil of this specific concept in Chapters 1-3, and it's been his main focus for most of this letter so far. But there was apparently a lot more ethnic baggage among the various groups that made up the Galatian churches. It could have been a reaction to the Judiazers – the Greek, Gallic, or other ethnic groups feeling like there must be some worth in their own ethnic heritage, which would have included the “old religion.” Or it could have been a “have our cake and eat it too” reaction – if embracing the customs of the Jews brings us closer to God, then bringing in the customs of our own ethnic religions would bring us even closer. In any event, in many respects, the Galatians are back where they started -- their pagan roots are just as much a stumbling block as the Judiazers insisting on conformity to Jewish roots.

The problem with all this is obvious – in 3:23, Paul notes that the Jewish law made us prisoners, and that Jesus sets us free from this slavery (3:28). In 4:3, he uses the slave metaphor again, but broadens it to include all religion apart from Christ – that is to say, without total dependence on Christ, there is slavery, regardless of your ethnic or religious background.

He closes verse 9 with the rhetorical question that brings us back to all of that. “Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again?” There is a warning in this for all of us. Ethnic, cultural, social, even matters of personal taste can become stumbling blocks. When we elevate the observation or adoption of these things to “sacred” status, we are going back to the “curse” of Galatians 3:10. It is also a warning that reducing Christianity to a formula in any way will also cause us to revert back to the “curse,” to slavery.

Finally, we must be wary of the things from our own past that were idols being justified as part of our relationship with God. The key here is just that -- RELATIONSHIP! Being devoted to and in love with Jesus is the cornerstone. Once again, if we have a living relationship with God, the need for ethnic/cultural conformity is gone, the need to follow rules or formulas, all of it goes by the wayside. Our focus needs to be on Jesus. But this is can be such a subtle encroachment -- there is a fine line between pride or even historical interest in our ethnic heritage, denominational traditions, or "hometown" loyalties and relying on these things as a basis for identity. Its only in truly knowing Jesus can be be truly free to properly sort that stuff out.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 4 Verse 8

Galatians 4:8 Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods.

“did not know God” Prior to coming to know Jesus, to being born again, no one can “know” God. But in this context, Paul seems to use this to refer to the Galatians Greek/Pagan background. See I Corinthians 12:2, “You know that when you were pagans . . . “ and I Thessalonians 4:13, “like the heathen who do not know God." The Jewish mindset of Paul’s time was that pagans did not “know God.” Prior to the coming of Jesus, the covenant connection was with the Jews. It would seem at first blush that Paul is hinting that the Jews have a leg up on Gentiles, but actually, he is simply beginning a section where he will point out that not only is it wrong to insist on becoming like Jews in order to be a Christian, but that the Galatians were also dragging along many of their own pagan traditions and "worldly" mindsets into their Christianity.

“you were slaves” Again, here is a reference to slavery, which is a person who is the PROPERTY of another, without any rights. Earlier in the letter, Paul discussed being slaves to the law, before the Jews knew Jesus. Here he references an apparently even more cumbersome slave master – the world at large. Regardless, the only freedom is in a relationship with Jesus.

“to those who by nature are not Gods.” These are the pagan deities the Galatians once worshiped. Pagans believe that what they are worshiping are indeed Gods. After coming to know Jesus, of course, we realize that they are not Gods at all. Indeed, the Pagan Gods were almost always connected to some object in the creation – the sun, the moon, the stars, the sea, the sky, the animals, the seasons etc. The sin of idolatry is to worship a created thing as if it were the Creator. Prior to becoming Christians, this was all the Galatians knew.

My journey back from cancer

I have not said much online, blogging on facebbook, Xanga, or Blogspot, about this particular issue. I just didn't feel like making a bigger deal out of it than I needed to. But, to add to the "fun" of being suddenly and unexpectedly unemployed about 8 months ago, going through the "fun" of starting my own law practice from scratch in the worst economy in half a century, in the midst of it all, I discovered I had cancer.

Prostate cancer. Detected early. Not-worried-about-terminal
issues, but prostate cancer nonetheless.

My family and my church friends know this, and some of you who I have had closer conversations with also know. But I thought I needed to make this issue public, as it is coloring my whole life these days.

Its ironic. I probably wouldn't have found out I had it had I not lost my job. I was on a short severance, and decided to make sure I got a physical exam in before my benefits expired, and I had to switch over to something new. The PSA blood test raised all sorts of alarms, and the biopsy confirmed that I did, indeed, have cancer. My wife and I spent our 25th anniversary in a doctor's office looking at treatment options.

We chose to have the prostate surgically removed -- best option for someone my age to assure against recurrence of the cancer and spread to other parts of the body.

I had the surgery performed on Monday. I was home the following day. Its a pretty amazing procedure, done via laproscopic robotic arms. The Doctor's hands never actually touch my innards -- in fact, I don't believe my surgeon was even in the operating room -- he was next door, with a computer device and a monitor.

I will not know the pathology for another week or so. But the Doc was very upbeat -- he felt that the cancer was primarily confided to the organ, and told me my lymph nodes were clear. He estimated a 10% chance of a need for further treatment (e.g. radiation, chemo etc.).

I am home recuperating. Taking it slow. I am required by the Doc to walk at least 60 minutes a day, in short intervals. I am in a lot of pain, but the Doc explained that I because I'm a "larger" guy (can you say "obese" boys and girls?), there was a lot more material to push around to get the cameras in place inside me for the surgery. So I am SORE.

It'll be a while. A long road back to full health. But I am hopeful. I described what I am going through to one friend as "yucky." And I immediately followed up with "but yucky beats terminal hands down."

Thanks to all my dear friends -- I know there has been an army of people praying for me and my family -- I felt that sustaining us throughout. All the generous and thoughtful support, from reaching out directly to simple encouragement -- I can't beat my family, and the family of God. People who are looking our for my wife, and looking out for my kids. I weep at the concept of how much all of you care for me and my family.

I know its the bond we share in Christ. And what I have received from God through His people helping me in my time of need bountifully testifies to the reality of walking with Jesus.

I also want to thank my children -- Simi, Tara, Cassi & Frank, who have been so understanding. In many ways, this year has been toughest on them. And yet, they have such great attitudes about it all. I am so proud of them all.

And to my wife, Susan . . . who is really holding up the most, music teacher extraordinaire, working mom, now add playing nursemaid to a crabby guy like me. She has, and always will, be the best. She is the closest thing I have seen to unconditional love this side of eternity. And now, I hope surgery has removed the barrier that will keep us from growing old together.

Thank you all for being so understanding.



Monday, September 21, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 4, verse 7

Galatians 4:7 So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.

“no longer a slave, but a son” Paul sums up all his legal metaphors, We are free from the curse of 3:10, we are no longer in the prison of 3:22-23, we are no longer under the “charge” of a pedagogue (3:24-35), that is, the law is not necessary to guide us to Christ anymore. We have found Him! We have arrived! We are no longer slaves as noted in 3:28, or 4:1, and finally, we are no longer subject to the guardians and trustees of 4:2. The “time set” by our Father in Heaven has come! We are truly “sons.”

“also an heir.” Our Father is no common person. He is the Lord of the universe. In the covenant “last will and testament,” referenced in 3:15, there is a tremendous promise of inheritance, through grace, that each of us now receives -- not a "pie in the sky," "someday I'll go to heaven" kind of inheritance, but the inheritance of a new life, of new creation, of being made new in the here and now.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 4, verse 6

Galatians 4:6 Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, <"Abba>, Father."

“Because you are sons” At the end of the previous verse (verse 5), Paul summed up our position in Christ as being someone with “full rights as sons,” but it felt like there was something more. He now states clearly what was presumed in that verse – we ARE sons. Of course, the Judiazers would argue that without a connection to Abraham by birth, without a bloodline lineage, one would need to “convert” to Judaism, that is, have a technical, “legal” connection. But because Paul has used estate planning as his metaphor since Chapter 3, verse 15, we can infer a “legal” connection, but one that has no requirements for us – Adoption!! By faith, we are the adopted sons of God, whether by the pure-bred blood lineage of Israel, or if we are Gentile “mongrels.”

“God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts” In Romans 8:4, Paul states, “the Spirit of God lives in you,” and in Romans 8:2, he calls it the “Spirit of Life,” while in Ephesians 1: 13-14, he speaks of receiving the Holy Spirit as a “deposit on our inheritance.” God sends the Holy Spirit to fill us and to draw us into an intimacy with Him – “into” or “in” our hearts, as close as God can possibly be. But by referring to the Spirit in this way it also serves to continue the legal metaphor. Under Roman law, all adoptions required a witness. (For those of you who have ever seen the movie “Ben Hur,” there is a scene in the movie where the character of Ben Hur, played by Charlton Heston, is presented to a crowd of party guests by the Roman general whose life he saved. In front of his guests, the general announces his plans to adopt Ben Hur as his son. The guests serve as official witnesses in the adoption ceremony, and to complete it, the general’s ring is stamped on the adoption document as a seal). Here, the Holy Spirit is serving as that witness, sealing us to the Father in an unbreakable bond. I also think that a parallel can be drawn to the pedagogue in Galatians 3:24 – the slave that was in charge of the child in a “baby sitter” sort of fashion, as well as the “guardian” of 4:2. The Holy Spirit is our new “guardian,” but a guardian that guides us in freedom, and leads us to intimacy with the Father.

“the Spirit who calls out ABBA, Father.” Once again, we are back to the essentials of the kingdom of God; a relationship. RELATIONSHIP! Yes, the Spirit “calls out,” but because the Spirit “fills our hearts,” it is our heart also crying out. We ourselves cry out to fulfill our ultimate longing. We were in slavery before – where we had no rights, and suffered under horrible oppression. We were under the watchful eye of the pedagogue (the personification of the law), whose purpose was to take care of us—but it wasn’t a life giving relationship. Even as sons, in our immaturity, we were under the watchful eye of our guardian. But in Christ, finally, we are free, and we meet at last our true Father. Under the law, the Father was watching over us, but it was always at a distance – like a sitter, or a legal guardian. In Christ, we have direct access to the Father, we are IN the Father’s presence. We know Him! “Abba” is a word in Aramaic (as opposed to Greek, the language the letter is written in), and it is a word that is as intimate a word as can be conveyed – as if we were calling the Lord our “Daddy” or “Papa” instead of the more formal title of “Father.” We are as close to God as a child reaching out and touching his Daddy. Indeed, this verse is the essence of the Gospel message!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 4, verses 4 & 5

Galatians 4:4 But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, (5) to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.

Two verses today – two for the price of one!

“But when the time had fully come” “Time” here could mean two things – the generally accepted concept of “fullness of time” (as one translation puts it), as in the fulfillment of God’s perfect wisdom and plan. More likely, Paul is connecting this to verse 2 – to the child who was subject to his deceased parents’ last will, under the authority of and bound by guardians and trustees until the time set in the will. The coming of Jesus into our lives frees us, so we are no longer subject to the rules that bind us as slaves.

“God sent His son” The rest of verse 4 reads like a doctrinal creed. This is basic to the faith – but a vital, basic truth, to be sure. Across the panoply of New Testament scripture, this basic truth is elaborated – John 1:14 (“the Word became flesh”); John 3:16 (“he gave his one and only son”), Romans 1: 1-6 (explaining Christ’s pedigree in the plan of salvation); I John 4:14 (“the Father sent His son to be the Savior of the world”).

“born of a woman” Jesus was truly human – (while also being truly God) -- a concept that both the ancient Jews and pagans had difficulty with.

“born under the law” As Jesus walked the earth as a man, He was subject to the Jewish law. Of course, Jesus, as the one man who never fell short of the law’s standard, was sinless!

“to redeem those under the law” “redeem” means to buy back, to exchange. All of the examples Paul has given – the “curse” of 3:10-14, the “prisoner” of 3:32, the “pedagogue” overseer of 3:26, or the child under the testamentary trust her in Galatians 4, all of these examples involve a person being under some sort of bondage. All of those bondages are directly connected to our sin natures – we are inclined to sin, and cannot please God through our own efforts. The law was designed to guide us in or relationship with God, but, as Paul demonstrates here and throughout his letters, it is impossible to fulfill the law. Thus, the law itself becomes a bondage. The law, as an end in itself, cannot give life. Only a RELATIONSHIP with the living God can do that. Christ’s life and sacrifice fulfills the law and frees us from that bondage, and brings us into that relationship.

“that we might receive the full rights of sons” The testamentary trust of 4:2 had been fulfilled by Jesus. The property, riches, and rights withheld by the terms of the trust because the beneficiary was underage are now fully in the hands of the heir. We can now claim our rightful inheritance. As Paul will emphasize in 4:7, the state of slavery is gone – we are now truly “sons.”

Friday, September 18, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 4, verse 3

Galatians 4:3 So also, when we were children, we were in slavery under the basic principles of the world

“when we were children” I don’t think Paul is being literal here, but referring to our lives before we knew Christ.

“we were in slavery” The concept implied by the comparison with being a literal child under Roman law discussed in Chapter 4:1 is stated directly here. As a child, we had no rights, we had no hope of freedom. This is similar to other themes voiced in this letter – the curse of Galatians 3:10-14; the prisoner of 3:23, and now, the slave/child of 4:1.

“under the basic principles” The original Greek phrase here literally means to place things side by side in a row, and was used for explaining simple order in the basics of life, like the alphabet. Its not unlike the common trite phrases we use in American slang to explain the same thing – e.g., “simple as ABC,” “easy as 1-2-3.” Paul is implying the fundamental principle or basic elements of life. The context points to the “basic principles” or elemental forms of religion and spiritual life that existed for the Galatians prior to knowing Christ. So far, Paul has been emphasizing concepts as they existed in Judaism, under the Law of Moses, and he will continue to do so (very soon, in fact, down in 4:5), but he is also referring here to the religious customs of the pagan Gentiles, which he will begin to touch on in 4:8. Thus, not only was the issue of the Judiazers and their heresy a problem, but even the old pagan customs of the Gentiles were creeping back into the Galatian churches too!

“of the world” In their pagan life style, the Galatian Gentiles had worshiped the elements of the earth, sky, and the personification of nature and all its forms (e.g. earth, fire, the sun, the moon, trees, rivers, animals). Most of the ancient world was concerned about the concept of “fate,” which ruled the lives of men in an impersonal manner through the pagan deities. Paul is concerned that even the Jewish believer has been subject to belief in these sorts of concepts – relying on a sort of “folk magic” to guide their lives, like modern American society uses Astrology and other pagan elements (Paul implies the Jews are subject to similar issues down in 4:9). “World” in verse 3 means what we use that term to mean in modern evangelical and charismatic Christianity – the pagan world, the “flesh,” “worldliness.” Before we knew Jesus, we were slave to all the concepts of the “world,” – For some of us, this was the obvious immoral, narcissistic, and hedonistic sinfulness that is at the center of the pagan world. For others, we might have for the most part lead good, moral lives by the objective standard of the “world,” but delved into more socially acceptable “paganism,” the sort of thing that was “Christianized” – you know, immoral practices that didn’t seem so bad because they were coated with religion and much more socially acceptable. The problem is, both kinds of sin are really the same. Some of it seems like its good, or at least “better” when compared to the really immoral pagan or self centered, “fleshy” behavior (“I don’t do drugs, I haven’t killed anyone, I’m not promiscuous” etc.), but, unfortunately, its all sin.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 4, verse 2

Galatians 4:2 He is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father.

“He is subject to guardians and trustees” The words used here for “guardian” and trustee” are much broader and have more force than the word that described the “pedagogue” that the parents left “in charge” of the child back in Galatians 3:24. Just as a slave had to be under the authority and control of a master or owner, a child was under the authority of a guardian. This was, of course, usually the parent – usually the Father. But if his parents were dead, and the child was still a minor, Roman law required the child to be placed under a legal guardian (remember from 4:1 – a child has no rights, he is like a slave). The guardian would be appointed and named through the father’s will, or, if not specified, Roman law provided that the nearest living male relative on the father’s side of the family would serve in this role.

The world for “trustee” is translated in other versions of the Bible as “manager” or “steward.” This is quite similar in concept to a fiduciary trustee as understood in the modern legal system. This concept is comparable to the overseer of slaves on an early 19th century southern American plantation, or a foreman on a construction site, or the vice president of a corporation. In the context of Paul’s time, this would have been either a slave or a free man who wielded considerable power and authority. Similar concepts in other places in the New Testament are the vineyard owner’s foreman in Matthew 20:8 and the “manager of Herod’s household” in Luke 8:3. But whether a guardian or trustee, this is a much larger concept then what was essentially a babysitter, or Kindergarten teacher, or coach that was the pedagogue's role in Galatians 3:28. This is REAL authority. Paul will expand more in 4:3 on how this “authority” affected us in our spiritual lives.

“until the time set by his father” The father’s last will and testament, as the instrument which appointed the guardian, controlled how long the guardian would have authority over the child. If not specified, it would only last until the child reached majority. But often, a parent proscribed a longer time period. A father who knew his son wasn’t very responsible might make a guardianship that lasted well into the child’s adult years. The timing for when the child could call the shots was always set by the Father. This analogy works on a multitude of levels – not just for the basic issue of salvation and coming into God’s kingdom, and into a relationship with Jesus, but in the entire maturation process in our walk with God. Every step in the kingdom, all growth, every blessing, the “desires of our heart,: even the things God wants us to be responsible for – we will not come into them until the time “set by the Father.”

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 4, Verse 1

Galatians 4:1 What I am saying is that as long as the heir is a child, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate.

Of course, the chapter/verse designations of the Bible are artificial – they were figured out long after the fact – Paul himself did not determine when Chapter 3 would end and Chapter 4 begins. While Chapter 3 ends with Paul’s arguments summed up in a nice, tidy package, the start of Chapter 4 is really an extension of Paul’s Chapter 3 discussions.

At the close of Chapter 3, Paul sums up his arguments by declaring that all Christians, regardless of culture or ethnic background, are “sons of God,” descendants of Abraham, and heirs of the promise made to Abraham. Verse 28 in particular declares we are “all one in Christ,” despite our differences. Paul opens Chapter 4 by taking these concepts, along with his use of legal metaphors from the prior chapter, and explains and clarifies these concepts further.

“What I am saying” Paul seem to feel that he needs to clarify something. He has spent the last two chapters proving that salvation is achieved through faith in Christ, and not by works, and that being Jewish and observing the law has no bearing on one’s acceptability to God. This is pretty radical stuff. Especially in 3:28, Paul is laying out concepts that fly in the face of the ancient world’s customs and mores. Jews the same as Greeks? Men and women equal before God? Both the traditional and devout Jew and the average moral pagan would have trouble swallowing these concepts. Paul’s transition here in 4:1 seems to say “Wait, there’s more.” Indeed, we do have to be cautious. Paul argues in Galatians 3:21 and in Romans 6 & 7, that the grace of God does not give us a license to do whatever we please, and we can’t be selfish or childish – well, at least we need to learn. For example, Galatians 3:28’s proclamation of “male nor female” has been used to open the door to a spirit of radical feminism in the church. “Slave nor free” has been used to justify political revolution. We can’t lose sight of the need for the person of Jesus, our RELATIONSHIP with Him, our need to be submitted to Him, as a young child is to his Father.

“heir is a child” Paul taps into the child/Father concept and relationship, as well as calling back to mind the references he made in the previous chapter, such as the pedagogue servant from 3:24, and the covenant/last will & testament concept, and continues. Paul has just closed Chapter 3 by giving us the title of “heirs,” and “sons of God.” Well, even the heirs of a family worth billions start out as babies. Legally, a child is still an heir. But until the child reaches adulthood, he can’t enjoy the full benefits of the estate, or his inheritance. (see the next verse, verse2).

“no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate.” The concept of slavery, or being a slave has not been discussed much in Galatians so far – just a passing reference in 3:28. Paul used the concept of being a “prisoner” of the law in 3:23, but that’s not the same as being a slave. A prisoner, in the traditional sense, is a citizen who has violated the law, or run afoul of governmental authority. While a prisoner may have lost his freedom, he till has rights that are protected by concepts of the due process of law and procedures of the legal system. Despite the despotic nature of Roman government in Paul’s day, this was actually true for Roman citizens – they had a civil and criminal code that carefully protected the rights of the average person. A slave, on the other hand, is NOT a citizen. He has no rights. He has no freedom, even if he’s not a prisoner. He’s not even considered a person, but rather, a piece of property! Under Roman law, a child, a minor, under the authority of a parent or guardian, had virtually no rights – the equivalent of a slave’s rights – and we might as well say the child had no rights of his own. In the picture Paul begins to paint here in Chapter 4, he starts to personalize the argument he made in 3:15. He shows us the concept of a child -- a child whose parents have passed away, leaving a last will (a “covenant”) passing the estate to the child. But this child is very young, still a minor. As a child, he has no rights, but as the heir, he is technically and legally the owner. Paul is showing us how our relationship with Jesus begins in a similar way.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 3, verse 29

Galatians 3:29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Here is Paul’s final summation before moving on to his next argument (although the next section is similar in tone and content). Here, though, the focus reverses. Throughout Chapter 3, Paul has emphasized the Jewish cultural concepts, essentially debunking their importance as far as acceptability to God is concerned, e.g., being a “child of Abraham,” viewing the law as a curse, and “Abraham’s seed.” He’s also emphasized common estate law and the social constructs of the “pedagogue” type servant. All these things serve to show us the way to Christ. His “”wrap up verse” flips the focus, but in a way to show proper emphasis – if we “belong to Christ,” then we are truly “Abraham’s seed.” It is Jesus that ties us to Abraham’s people, to Abraham’s blessing, to Abraham’s promise, no matter what our ethnic connection might be. If we “belong to Christ,” we are heirs “according to the promise.” Jesus again ties us in. Perhaps I am making too much of this in the context of sentence structure, but by starting with “If we belong to Christ,” rather than “you are Abraham’s seed if you belong to Christ,” Paul is showing us where the emphasis needs to be! On Jesus! NOT on ethnicity, culture, or what we do!

Its also interesting that Paul’s play on words back in Galatians 3:16 appears to be "out the window," in a sense. But as I discussed at length in the comments on 3:16, this is a play on words with a divine purpose. Paul uses the focus on singular, rather than plural “seed" as an argument technique, and to show the true emphasis on the concept of who the real “seed” was. But here, he shows that the reason for using an ambiguous word had a purpose in God – it is actually interpreted BOTH WAYS! Jesus was the singular seed. Through Him we all became the plural seed(s). He also adds the concept that we are “heirs.” This not only ties in with his examples of the covenant/last will and testament in verses 15-18, and the pedagogue servant in verse 24, but with the traditional Jewish concept of “Abraham’s seed.” For it was common to leave one’s estate for a single heir, and then provide that it go to others upon that heir’s death. That is what happened for us. God’s “heir,” – the one “seed” – Jesus, died on the cross, passing his inheritance under the last will – the “covenant” – on to all of us who believe in Him. In a legal sense, then, the one seed splits into many seeds – and the original, traditional way the Jews understood the contextual concept of the “seed” or “offspring” of Abraham as an infinite number, as a nation of people, becomes true as well. Paul’s little play on words with singular/plural “seed” is not just some game. Its a phrase inspired by the Holy Spirit to show that in Jesus, we are all part of God’s family. Abraham’s seed is singular AND plural, and that is so like God’s nature. The focus must be on Jesus, and OUR RELATIONSHIP with Jesus!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 3, verse 28

Galatians 3:28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

This is one of the most oft quoted scriptures from the book of Galatians. It is, indeed, the ultimate conclusion of Paul’s arguments here in Chapter 3. The unity of the Body of Christ transcends all of the traditional barriers that exist in culture. This was an extremely radical statement for its day, and, despite “political correctness,” it’s still a radical concept in modern society. But we need to understand exactly what Paul means here. Paul is talking about salvation, and being acceptable to God through Jesus. His main point throughout this book so far has been that we don’t need to follow the Jewish law, and therefore don’t need to be ethnically Jewish, or be like a Jew, in order to be acceptable to God. Ethnicity doesn’t matter – that is Paul’s underlying thesis in the book of Galatians. Here in verse 28, he makes a point to expand and explain further.

Its not just the issue of ethnicity – the issue of social class is also irrelevant (“slave or free”). This was also radical for its time. The wealthy were given every consideration over the poor (things really haven’t changed much today). But social standing is also irrelevant. Paul also adds a distinction he really hasn’t mentioned yet – “male nor female.” In the ancient world, women were also relegated to second class citizenship, often having a status that was much like that of being a slave. Paul is saying that gender is also irrelevant as to the issue of being acceptable to God. Now, this verse is often mis-characterized on this last point. Paul says “you are all one in Christ.” He does not say “you are all the SAME in Christ.” Gender roles in the church and the question of spiritual authority are NOT being discussed here. Ephesians 2 discusses a similar concept, saying we are no longer aliens, but “fellow citizens.” The power of Christ, the totality of His sacrifice has torn down these societal boundaries, and made us ONE – made us a family. We are all in this together folks!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 3, Verse 27

Galatians 3:27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.

“all of you who were” There is a sense here of a universality – everybody is included. The Galatians were much more than nominal Christians. They were, indeed, a community of believers. The implication here is that most, if not all of them, had a solid foundation (see Galatians 3:2-5, where the Galatians are shown to have “received the Spirit,” and were functional in the charismatic gifts – even miracles!). This all fits in with the underlying theme of the book – that you don’t have to be part of a particular race or ethnic group to be part of the kingdom (see the next verse, verse 28).

“baptized into Christ” Paul discusses baptism more thoroughly in Romans 6. The emphasis here is on “into Christ”—being immersed in Him, being one with Him.

“have clothed yourselves with Christ” It was common in pagan cultures to have to wear certain types of clothing to participate in religious exercises. Priests in the Jewish Tabernacle and/or Temple were required to wear certain garments when they ministered before God. In the one “true faith,” all we need is Jesus. We are so close to Him, we wrap ourselves in Him – He covers us, so that all the Father sees is Jesus. The scriptures are filled with pictures of mankind taking off its sinful, dirty clothes, and wrapping himself with a righteous garment. Indeed, that garment is Jesus Himself. By accepting Jesus as our Savior, by “converting” to Christianity, we take our place in God’s kingdom, and for the purposes of Paul’s arguments throughout this chapter, we become the children of Abraham (3:7), Abraham’s Seed (3: 16 & 29), and an adopted son (3:26). We are one with Christ! It can’t be emphasized enough – it’s all about RELATIONSHIP!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 3, verse 26

Galatians 3:26 You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus,

Paul has run through all of his theological “proofs” for refuting the Judiazers, and here starts to wrap them up before proceeding on to his next point. He uses this opportunity to transition. He has used the analogy of being “children” already – “children of Abraham” to be specific. He is about to use the metaphor of a “son,” and spend much of chapter 4 telling us we are the children and heirs of God, and not slaves to sin. The opening of verse 26 almost feels abrupt after the near-poetic language of the previous section. Indeed, my NIV Bible Study Notes separates out verse 26 as the start of a new section, with a new heading (“Sons of God,” – go figure!).

But Paul’s continued use of metaphor and analogy fits quite nicely. He has given us a picture of a young, immature boy in the last few verses; a boy who needs a guardian/babysitter, to take care of and protect him on his way to school, help him with his homework, and be his guide in the basics of life. This boy spoken of in verses 21-25, of course, is every one of us. Paul now connects with who this child really is – the real identity. This child is a son, or child, of God the Father himself.

Wow! And there’s still a bonus! If you connect all of the arguments Paul makes here in Chapter 3, it becomes clear that this is a son by adoption. Before Jesus,, the only way to be a “son” in God’s kingdom was to be one in the flesh, to literally be a descendant of Abraham. Through Jesus, we are all adopted into the family. In addition, we are all accepted by God as a mature adult – because of faith in Jesus, because of a direct, intimate connection with God through Jesus, we are no longer dependent on the pedagogue/baby sitter that the law served in our lives. By faith, each of us is adopted – justified, with full status as a mature adult and heir in God’s family, with all the attendant rights, privileges, and freedoms. In our lives, there were things we could never do as a child – drive, vote, drink etc. – that is, until we reached a certain age. Faith in Jesus is like the ultimate graduation. Even more so, its being born into the family, but with God treating us as an adult -- with all the love and respect that go with that status -- from the very start.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 3, verse 25

Galatians 3:25 Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.

“Now that faith has come” Paul continues the theme of the “pedagogue,” the slave/tutor for young boys that was fairly common in the culture of the time. The metaphor here is framed in the terms of a youth coming into maturity, into adulthood. (The time frame for this occurring in both the Greek and Jewish cultures was when boys reached the age of 13 or 14). There would come a time in the course of the relationship between pedagogue and ward when the boy would be old enough to handle things himself – he was now mature enough to get along without his tutor. For some, this change would be almost instantaneous. For others, the boy might need more help, and was gradually weaned away from his tutor. The coming of Jesus into our lives is similar. From a “global” or historical perspective, the fact of Jesus being born into this world and dying for our sins technically freed mankind from the “supervision” of the Sinai covenant. But because of the relational nature of the promise, there is a moment in each of our lives when “faith comes,” when we are born again. The inner transformation for some is so great, so fundamental, that they “mature” and are set free in what seems like, or actually is, an instant. Others struggle more, and cling to the comfort and crutch of their old tutor (See Romans 7).

But a major factor in understanding this concept of the tutor was this – the pedagogue was NOT the teacher. He was just a guide. A guardian. A baby sitter. The real learning, the real study, the real life-giving relationship came from the teacher. The comparison is obvious. We need to graduate from relying on a substitute care giver that can help us, but can’t impart life -- to the real teacher, who not only imparts life – He IS life!

Do we now disregard the law? Of course not. The word used here is “supervise.” The law will always serve as a road map, a referee, a reference. The lessons taught to the young boy by the pedagogue lasted a lifetime. But the boy would come to rely on his teacher, on the relationship with the master, and didn’t need to have his hand held on the way to school any more. The is how we need to view the law in the context of our relationship with Jesus. The law is not irrelevant, its just not primary. Its not supervising. Its not in charge. The life lessons learned under it are important, and carry on, helping us frame our behavior. But if that is all we have, there is an emptiness, a loneliness, an incompleteness. The supervision comes from the teacher – but not from a stern taskmaster or a dictator, but from a loving, interactive relationship with a loving Father – the Lord of the universe.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 3, verse 24

Galatians 3:24 So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith.

“the law was put in charge” The Greek word translated as “put in charge” is PAIDAGOGOS. This is the same root from which the word “pedagogy” (the study of teaching) is derived. It is also translated in other versions of the Bible as “tutor” or “guardian.” The Pharisees of New Testament times sometimes described Moses as Israel’s “guardian” until the nation “grew up” or matured in the faith. Greek philosophers of the same era viewed “wisdom” and the concept of a moral code as a “teacher,” sometimes personifying wisdom as a guiding goddess. But Paul is using the term in its literal sense, in a way the people of Galatia and the Greco-Roman world would have understood, just like they understood the context of his use of “covenant” in Chapter 3: 15-18.

The tutor or teacher he is referencing was a personal slave/attendant assigned to watch over the master’s male child, to accompany the boy wherever he went, and exercised a certain amount of authority and discipline over him. He would watch over and protect the boy on the way to school, help him with his homework, and train the child in matters of manners and etiquette. BUT – the slave attendant, or “pedagogue,” was not the teacher himself. His role was secondary – to help guide the child into a better relationship with the instructor or the child’s parents. Indeed, a better comparison would be that of a baby-sitter rather than a teacher.

The children of Greek society who had such slave-guardians sometimes resented them, but more often they grew fond of them, and would set them free upon the child reaching adulthood. Such guardians were highly educated – this was not a demeaning position for a slave. Indeed, it was a great honor, and such slaves would have been viewed with respect and deference by the general public.

“to lead us to Christ” This metaphor really helps to put the concept of the purpose of the lSinai Covenant into perspective. The pedagogue/tutor analogy would have been readily understood and common to the average Galatian as much as the last will/covenant metaphor of Galatians 3:15-18. In effect, the pedagogue represents the law, which was meant to be a “baby-sitter,” to help protect and teach God’s people until they came to a saving relationship with Jesus. It is designed to assist us where we are immature (see the next verse as well, verse 25). The Jews were probably insulted by this analogy – they viewed the law personified as a great rabbi, or the teacher himself, on par with a college professor, not as a baby sitter. Yet, they were also waiting for the coming of the Messiah – they knew there was more to come. The purpose of the law was to “baby sit” mankind until Christ came to fulfill all that God had promised – to Abraham, before the law ever came. Even in our lives today, the law, the moral principles we need to walk in Holiness (Paul describes these issues later in more detail starting in Galatians 5:16) are designed to serve as fences and boundaries to protect us so that we are directed toward a living relationship with Jesus. Again, its all about RELATIONSHIP!

“that we might be justified by faith” This is the fulfillment of the promise made to Abraham discussed earlier in Chapter 3 – it all leads back to Jesus! (and faith in Him!)

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 3, verse 23

Galatians 3:23 Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed.

“Before” Jewish tradition divided human history into a series of stages. Paul will explain further in verse 21, but the era when the law took precedence was finite – the law served as a guardian for the Jewish people until such a time as God fulfilled the original promise, or, as he says later on here, “until faith should be revealed.”

“this faith” This, of course, is Jesus, as verse 22 had explained, its “faith in Jesus Christ” that fulfills the promise for each of us.

“we were held prisoners of the law” Paul continues his prison metaphor from the previous verse. In verse 22, we are identified as “prisoners of sin,” here, we are “prisoners of the law.” We can connect the first notion back to the fall of Adam – our base nature is that of sin. Paul discusses this in Romans 5:15-21 – We are all condemned – trapped – through Adam’s sin. Being a prisoner of the law is a similar concept, because the law reveals what sin is to us, and stimulates the desire to sin, not unlike the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. Recall Galatians 3:10-14, that the law places us under a curse. Later, in Galatians 4:3, Paul will define our relationship to the law as one of slavery. In Romans 7:8, Paul states that sin, as our base nature, grabs hold of the concepts in the law in order to produce in us “every kind of covetous desire.” In Colossians 2:20, Paul argues that we are submitted to the world’s rules. Regardless, the concept is the same. With or without the law and its rules, we are still trapped. Our base nature is sinful – we are prone to turn away from God and "do our own thing.” The law not only defines what is necessary for morality, but it combines with our sin nature to produce a compulsion to do the very things the law prohibits. Paul spends most of Romans 7 lamenting this basic, common struggle everyone goes through. The answer – the key we need to open the prison door of both sin and the law – is faith in Jesus, a living relationship with the Messiah.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 3, verse 22

Galatians 3:22 But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe.

“the scripture declares” Paul once again personifies the Old Testament – the Law – using the very thing the Judiazers declared was the foundation of this argument to prove his own argument. Unlike the rest of Chapter 3, however, there is no specific scripture reference here – there is instead an overall generalization.

“the whole world is a prisoner to sin” Later in history, in the subsequent letter to the Romans, Paul will go on in depth regarding the universal depravity of man (see Romans 3:10-18). “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” etc. Here, Paul appears to not be pushing the argument as strongly. Perhaps this is because of the audience and the nature of the heresy he is refuting (based on Jewish rather than Gentile tradition)-- the Jews recognized the concept of human sinfulness, that everybody sins, that no one is perfect, and that there is no inherent goodness in man’s nature. But the Jewish teachers of Paul’s day did not take the consequences of sin as seriously as Paul argues they should. Paul uses the word “prisoner.” The implication is a person shut up in jail – imprisoned – behind bars. This implies an inability to change the situation yourself. There is no concept of merely correcting bad behavior, or turning over a new leaf. This is being trapped – locked away, and the key has been thrown away. While Paul doesn’t go into detail here (like he does in Romans 3), his bottom line is the same, and very, very clear – mankind is trapped in its sin. This can be connected back to Galatians 3:10-14 – the concept that we are under a “curse.” No amount of good behavior, obedience, or “brownie points” (some folks half seriously refer to good works as “Jesus points”) can set us free. While the Jews of Paul’s day -- in fact most of society in the Roman Empire, Jew or Gentile -- accepted the concept that all people sinned, they didn’t think that the ultimate consequence was all that bad. (Sounds a lot like the humanistic outlook of American society today, eh?). In Romans 3, Paul uses the Old Testament to prove that depravity is at the heart of man’s nature, and there is no human way out. We are truly “prisoners” of sin.

“that what was promised” The promise is the only way out of the prison. Only by faith in Jesus are we given the key to open that prison door. Only faith in Jesus breaks the curse, and redeems us.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 3, verse 21

Galatians 3:21 Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law.

Paul begins to conclude his theological proofs. To sum up his proofs prior to this point in Chapter 3 –

1) His appeal to personal experience and the objective evidence of what God had done and in the miraculous transformations in the lives of the Galatians -- in a nutshell, he argues that the Galatians had initially experienced the fruit of God's kingdom through faith -- how could they now believe these things had to be "earned" by obedience to the law? (3:1-5) ;

2) the promise to Abraham that was based on faith and that was always intended to include the Gentiles (3:6-9);

3) the concept that observance of the law can never save us, in fact, the reality is quite the opposite – failure to fulfill the law means we are cursed by the law – Jesus was meant to break that curse (3:10-14);

4) the covenant promise to Abraham is eternal and unchanging – the law does not supplant it. The need for Jesus as our Savior was always part of the promise of Abraham (3:15-18);

5) the purpose of the law was to define sin and model good behavior – not to save us (3:19-20).

All of these proofs have a similar theme – it is faith that saves us, NOT observance of the law. Many in the early church, and many folks even today, take this concept and run too far with it – denying the need for the law, arguing that it’s irrelevant, or unnecessary, or even evil. Jesus, of course, did not feel this way, “I have not come to abolish [the law], but to fulfill [it].” Matthew 5:17. This last argument refutes the heresy of antinomianism, the concept that we are set free to sin, rather than FROM sin, and explains why the law was needed – but – it also explains that the law was never intended to do the work of the promise. Indeed, it was never meant to be “law vs. promise.” The Galatians (and many of us today) got these concepts mixed up and/or reversed. The law, however, cannot “impart life.” Righteousness cannot come through obedience to the law. It can’t be achieved at all. It can’t be enforced. Taking what Paul says here, and stating it in the positive – it is the promise that imparts life. Righteousness comes through the promise.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 3, Verse 20

Galatians 3:20 A mediator, however, does not represent just one party; but God is one.

“mediator” As noted in the previous verse, this was Moses as far as the law was concerned. The legal concept of a mediator really has not changed since Paul’s day. A mediator intercedes between two or more parties to establish an agreeable solution where the parties involved are at odds. An agreement is negotiated (or sometimes imposed by the mediator) that is adopted to the needs of both parties. Paul is pointing out that this is essentially what the Sinai covenant was – a formal arrangement of mutual commitments between God and the people of Israel. Moses served as the intermediary.

“does not represent one party” The promises God made to Abraham were different than the mutual promises made at Sinai. They were unilateral – the covenant God made with Abraham involved a commitment only from God’s side. No mediator was necessary.

“but God is one” This is more than just an emphasis on the unilateral nature of the promise. This is a concept central to the Jewish faith and mindset. Deuteronomy 6:4 states “Hear O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is One.” This is the most basic, foundational matter of faith in Judaism. Indeed, this verse is a blessing invoked by Jews at every Sabbath meeting – the focal point of worship. God’s “oneness” was essential, especially when contrasted to the rampant polytheism of the pagan world. The difference between the promise made to Abraham and the Sinai Covenant is ultimately connected to God’s “oneness.” The promise to Abraham is a commitment made from the heart of God, based on His loving nature, His essence, His very being. This is more in keeping with the concept of the unity of God’s existence – his “oneness,” rather than the concept of an ostensibly “brokered” deal conditioned on our behavior. Paul’s Jewish audience would have identified with this metaphor.

As a side note, this also helps address one of the major objections and stumbling blocks modern Jews have with Jesus – that the notion of God the Father and God the Son means God is divided (Some Jewish apologists even go so far as to accuse Christians of being polytheists!). It is easier to grasp the concept of the unity of God, even as manifested as Father and Son, when we know the promise, given by God out of His very oneness, is fulfilled by the Son, who is one in essence with the Father.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 3, verse 19

Galatians 3:19 What, then, was the purpose of the law? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come. The law was put into effect through angels by a mediator.

Paul shifts gears here. As discussed before, the Judiazers (and Jews in general) saw the law as necessary. Without it, there would be no standard or guidance to live a moral life. Paul addresses this concern by defining the purpose of the Law.

“It was added” The promise given to Abraham was the foundation, the centerpiece of the Jewish faith. There are actually 6 separate covenants (7 if you count the promises made to Abraham as 2 distinct and separate covenants) in the Old Testament. The first was with Noah, where God promised not to destroy the earth again.

Then came the promises God made to Abraham – that his descendants would be too numerous to count, that he would receive the promised land, and all the people of the earth would be blessed through him and his offspring. God made this covenant with Abraham because Abraham was “righteous,” that is, the faith Abraham had was “credited to him as righteousness.” (see Genesis 15:6 and Galatians 3:6). This covenant was based on grace. (As an aside, some scholars consider the discussion between God and Abraham in Genesis 18 as a separate, distinct covenant. There, God pledges to be the God of Abraham and his descendants. This second set of promises seems conditioned on consecration to the Lord as manifested or symbolized by circumcision. Interesting! God had already made the covenant of grace with Abraham prior to introducing the concept of circumcision, and, even when introduced, it was always meant as an outward sign of an inner commitment).

Then came the Sinai Covenants, spoken of in these verses and traditionally as “the Law.” This covenant was a similarly conditional pledge of God being Israel’s Lord, Protector and Provider, with the nation of Israel corporately promising total consecration to the Lord as His people to live by His rules and to serve His purposes.

The last 3 historic covenants were all unconditional – God promised Phineas in Numbers 25 that there would an everlasting priesthood; God promised David in 2 Samuel 7 that there would be an eternal throne in Israel occupied by his descendants; and the “new” covenant of Jeremiah 31: 31-34, where God promised the unfaithful nation of Israel the He would forgive them, and “write the law on their hearts.”

First, following the course of Paul’s “legal” arguments in the previous section (Galatians 3:15-18), the last covenant, the “new” covenant, is completely based on grace, as is the original promise to Abraham. Second, as discussed more later, ALL of the Covenants were fulfilled in Jesus.

“because of transgressions” This concept would have made sense to both the Jews and the Gentiles in Paul’s audience. The function of the law as a moral code or a set of rules was designed by God to define evil, and define good behavior. Even the pagan philosophers agreed with this (although they thought those who achieved “wisdom” would naturally be a law unto themselves). Paul discusses this in Romans 2, where he notes that Gentiles could live ostensibly moral lives outside the law. Paul also discusses the purpose of the law as the guide to defining what is sin in Romans 7: 7-12.

“until the Seed” Paul continues his “singular seed” concept from Galatians 3:16 – of course, this is Jesus. Thus the law was added to the covenants between God and mankind not to contradict the promise of grace, but to help protect God’s people until the time when the Seed would come and provide the means both to fulfill the promise made to Abraham and to transform us and to fulfill the covenants made at Sinai.

“angels” Deuteronomy 33:2 say the law was delivered by the Lord with “myriads of holy ones.” In Acts 7:38, Stephen says that angels spoke with Moses on Sinai. Hebrews 2:2 says the Law was “spoken by angels.” The traditions of post Old Testament Judaism also held that the law was given to Moses by angels. I don’t have the time this morning to plumb the depths of the book of Exodus and other parts of the Pentateuch to compare and check all this out, but one concept is interesting – there are many times God spoke to men in the form of an angel, which was really the embodiment of the pre-incarnate Christ. (e.g. Jacob wrestling with an angel; the angels that appear to Abraham; the angel that appears to Joshua prior to the battle of Jericho; the angel that speaks to Samson’s parents; the 4th person who appeared with the "three hebrew children" in the fiery furnace in the book of Daniel – these are just a few examples) We might infer from this that Moses received the law while He was speaking to Jesus in pre-incarnate form.

“mediator” This is Moses, and this will be discussed in the next verse.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 3, verse 18

Galatians 3:18 For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on a promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise.

To close his second scriptural proof/argument, Paul almost seems to be mixing his metaphors. I think he does this as a transition – He has already driven home the comparison to the common, everyday legal issues of a last will and testament. Now, he wants to hammer home the spiritual truth without the aid of metaphor.

“If the inheritance depends on the law” This is what feels like a mixed metaphor – but an ingenious one! Paul has been discussing the Law of Moses and the Word of God in the context of a last will and testament, and the common cultural understanding (of that time, that is, in ancient Greek and Hebrew culture) of the irrevocability of such a will. The use of “inheritance” evokes the same sort of comparison. “Inheritance” can mean the result of the fulfillment of that last will – the money or property we receive from the decedent who drafted that will. But if the Word of God is like a last will under this argument, the “inheritance" under the Word is eternal life, freedom from sin, victory and transformation in this life, but most of all – a living relationship with the true God (it connects nicely back to Paul’s first argument back in Galatians 3:2-5!). “The law” here is not the law controlling wills and estates – it’s the law of Moses. So, the comparison of the last will and God’s Word holds true – in both cases, we do not receive the inheritance by what we do. Both a will and God’s Covenant are a PROMISE – the will says “when I die, you get all I have.” The covenant says “I will be your God, I will bless you. I will save you. I will love you.” In both cases, all we have to do is receive. We can, of course, refuse to accept the promise. I can disclaim or renounce an inheritance under a will. I can also refuse to accept and believe in God’s Covenant.

“but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise.” This is the first time in Chapter 3 that Paul uses this very important word:”grace.” Its also the first use of “give” or “gift.” Its as if the rabbinical, scriptural analysis is done. The need to prove his point with Old Testament references is over. We’re down to the nitty gritty truth. The covenant – God’s salvation, forgiveness, favor, our whole relationship with God, is a free gift, bestowed on us by God’s grace – his unmerited favor, which we can never deserve. That is really the essence of the Gospel. This last phrase is set apart, because there is no argument to counter – God gave a gift to Abraham in His Promise (connecting his argument back to Galatians 3:6-9) – in Jesus, we partake in the same Promise, and receive the same gift as well!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 3, verse 17

Galatians 3:17 What I mean is this: The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise.

Paul now connects the spiritual principle he wishes to drive home to his original legal metaphor from verse 15. If a last will and testament – a promise of inheritance – cannot be revoked or changed, then how could the law, introduced nearly 5 centuries after Abraham’s time, replace the original covenant promise of God? The original, first covenant takes precedence.

Now, there is an implied notion here in this argument that the second covenant, the covenant or “last will” that came later in time, somehow contradicts the first. This is not true (though I am sure the Judiazers then (and now) played this for full effect). Paul will explain in verses 19-25 about the purpose of the law. But this issue of ostensible conflict between law and promise remains to this day in some people’s minds. But this section of Galatians helps put this matter to rest. God’s Word does not change. Its not that the law contradicts the promise to Abraham – Paul has already used the “last will” and covenant argument to show that God could never revoke the 1st Covenant of faith and replace it with a covenant based on works, But trying to understand that argument makes us realize that the reason why there was an issue at all is the Jews of that time (and its still true today) misinterpreted the true purpose of the law.

The law was never intended to be a promise regarding our standing with God, but rather to define evil, and act as a guide. If we continue to use a legal metaphor, we should view the covenant of Abraham as being like the law of citizenship. You are born a citizen of the United State, or you become naturalized, but once you are a citizen, it defines who you are. The law of Moses is like any statue or regulation that defines how we behave. E.g. speed limits, criminal conduct, industrial safety laws etc. If you drive your car faster than the speed limit, you could get a ticket, lose your license, or get into an accident and hurt yourself or others. But – you will not lose your citizenship! Your relationship with the government might become strained (i.e. you could go to jail), but you are still an American. Paul’s ultimate conclusion is this – as far as his legal argument goes, a binding covenant is irrevocable. God made a promise – an irrevocable promise – to Abraham (See Galatians 6:9). There is no need to behave a certain way, follow a certain set of rules, or be part of a particular ethnic or social group to partake of that covenant. All you must do is believe. The law of Sinai, which came centuries later, may define what good behavior is, give us guidelines to live by, and even define the penalty for disobedience, but it really has no relevance with regard to the earlier covenant. This is an apples to oranges comparison.

This truth helps diffuse one of the arguments used by Jewish folks I have known who refuse to believe in Jesus—they argue that Christians throw the law of Moses out the window. To look at it from their perspective, they argue “How could God change His mind?” Besides pointing out that modern Jews don’t follow the totality of the law either (there are no animal sacrifices these days), the essence of Paul’s arguments here in Galatians 3 lays this issue to rest. The law was never meant to make us right with God – only the promise to Abraham, ultimately fulfilled in Jesus Christ!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 3, verse 16

Galatians 3:16 The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say "and to seeds," meaning many people, but "and to your seed," meaning one person, who is Christ.

“The promises” specifically “spoken to Abraham” – these would have been well known to Paul’s audience, particularly the Jews. What were these “promises?”

In Genesis 13:16, God promises that Abraham’s offspring will be like the dust of the earth; that is, their number will be vast and immeasurable. Abraham also receives the promise of the possession of the land of Canaan – the “promised land.” (Genesis 12:7; 13:14-15; 15:7, 18-21; and 17:8) God promises that all the peoples of the earth will be blessed through Abraham (Genesis 12:3; 18:18) or his offspring (Genesis 22:18). Its pretty obvious by looking at this list that the emphasis was on this side of heaven – that is, the here and now, particularly regarding the promised land. This is what Jewish tradition focused on as well. The promise involving descendants was also viewed quite literally – combining the concept of countless descendants and blessing via offspring, the Jews clung to the concept that one LITERALLY needed to be “part of the family” in order to participate in these promises. Of course, the Jews of the early first century took this too far, and made blood-kin connections the centerpiece of their identity. In addition, though, in Romans 4:13, Paul sums up the promises made to Abraham as him being the “heir of the world.” This was a popular concept in Jewish tradition. The Hebrew word for “land” in places like Genesis 12:7 can also be translated as “earth” or “world.” So the Jews understood the promise of Canaan to Abraham as a larger metaphor for Abraham and his descendants inheriting the world to come. Thus, in the Jewish mindset, even heaven would be populated by a single ethnic group. Paul is about to correct this notion.

“Seed” verses “seeds.” The argument Paul uses to prove otherwise is ingenious, and has a distinctively Jewish bent. Paul argues his case the same way the rabbis and the Pharisees of that time did (as a former Pharisee, I suppose Paul had a lot of practice, and this would have impressed the Judiazers). That is, Paul focuses on a grammatical issue, a peculiarity that really isn’t that peculiar. Just like in the English language, the Hebrew word for “seed” or “offspring” (the word used in Genesis 12:7, 13:15 and 24:7 could be translated both ways) could convey either a singular or plural meaning. This was a common debate technique among the learned rabbis – i.e. “sons of Israel” meant either only men, or could include all of the people of Israel, men AND women, depending on what the rabbis needed the text to mean. The Judiazers, of course, were in the habit of twisting scripture like this to prove the heresy they were promoting to prove it was true. Is Paul “twisting” scripture? Not really. But Paul is using this technique to sort of “one up” his opponents – to give them a taste of their own medicine. Paul uses “seed” in a singular sense – a meaning that makes sense, and is logical, but when taken in the context of the Genesis references to Abraham doesn’t seem to fit. But Paul already knows on other grounds that Jesus is the ultimate end to the promise made to Abraham. Most Jews understood the “seed” to apply to all of Israel – indeed, Paul also uses the plural concept of “seed” in other letters (Romans 9:7 and 11:1) He even uses “seed” in its plural sense in Galatians 3:29, when he says the Galatians are all “Abraham’s seed.” How do we make sense of this then?

1) Combined with other promises made in Scripture – to Moses, to David, to the prophets, as well as Abraham – we see that Jesus is the epitome, the ultimate fulfillment of this promise. The focus needs to be on Jesus here, and not on ourselves.

2) Paul says the emphasis needs to be on “one person – Christ.” Again, the emphasis on everything in this book is RELATIONSHIP. Its not what you do, or what you know, its WHO you know. A personal, intimate relationship with Jesus is the key.

3) By placing the focus on the singular, on Jesus alone as the source of salvation, and taking the emphasis off of a plurality of people – the nation – ethnic issues become irrelevant. If God meant a singular meaning – one seed – when he made the promise, and through that one seed would bless the whole earth, then the need to be part of Abraham’s blood line is removed. Tie this back to the argument Paul made in Galatians 3:6-9, and we put this notion completely to death. Culture, national origin, ethnicity, social status, custom, even denomination or the concept of “good taste” are absolutely meaningless (see Galatians 3:28). It is only in the singular “seed” – only in Jesus – that we have access to God and completeness.

4) In keeping with the “legal” concept of a last will and testament (introduced in Galatians 3:15) Paul would have expected his audience to understand that under the customs of that time, a last will and testament would often stipulate that property be left first to one heir, and then to another after the first heir’s death. (Indeed, this is a common estate planning tool today!). In keeping with the legal theme, its logical to move to the concept of a promise meant for a singular “seed” – one person, who dies, and then the promise is left to someone else. So the concept is understandable from a strictly legal perspective – Christ was the heir of the promise. He died, and we all became heirs. (Using a “legal” argument also helped strengthen Paul’s premise in the eyes of people who relied on "the law").

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 3, verse 15

Galatians 3:15 Brothers, let me take an example from everyday life. Just as no one can set aside or add to a human covenant that has been duly established, so it is in this case.

“Brothers” Interesting – what a shift since 3:1, where Paul referred to the Galatians as “foolish.” Here, he addresses them with warmth and familiarity. Again, its all about RELATIONSHIP – and an intimate relationship, to boot. As an aside, I also see Paul warming up to his audience as he works his way through these arguments. Paul is upset with the Galatian Christians, but he won’t let that get in the way of him helping them, or caring for them. He really is a true example of a “spiritual father.” Next, Paul begins to set up his next theological point.

“no one can set aside or add to a human covenant that has been duly established” The Greek word translated here as “covenant” was a term commonly used for a last will and testament -- the very same concept we use in modern times for estate planning. Paul’s Greek-speaking audience would have made this connection. But thanks to the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament (the Greek translation widely in use at the time Galatians was written), this same word was used to refer to the Old Testament Covenant. Thus, Greek speaking Jews, or Jews trying to explain matters of faith to Greek speaking people, would have used this same word to refer to God’s covenant with His people. Why is this significant? Because under the Greek legal system, and to a large extent under Jewish legal custom (see Deuteronomy 21:15-17 for a potential precursor), a last will (i.e. an "estate plan"), once properly sealed and deposited with the proper legal authorities, was irrevocable and unchangeable. (This was not true under Roman law, by the way). Thus, new conditions could not be added, heirs could not be changed. If a new will was introduced that conflicted with the first will, it was rejected. The focus of the Jews in Paul’s day (and even today) was on the Sinai Covenant with Moses. They saw God’s promise to Abraham as a foreshadowing of the latter, or, a mirror of it – the Jews of that time believed that Abraham practiced the law of Moses even thou it had not yet been received in written form. This of course, was not true. But it was firmly ingrained in the Jewish mindset. Paul is going to use this “covenant” as a “last will” comparison. (This also applies to this concept as we look at the irrevocability and unchangeability of God’s Word) This helps refute the heresy.