Saturday, October 31, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 5, verse 19

Galatians 5: 19 “The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery;”

“The acts of the sinful nature are obvious” Paul begins to get specific—to individually list actions which are manifestations of the “flesh,” and to contrast these concepts with a specific list of the fruit of the Spirit immediately after, the result of “living” by the Spirit (Galatians 5:16). But this is not a body vs. Spirit dichotomy. While this verse’s “vices” all have to with sexuality, we can’t fall into that trap. Greek philosophers, particularly Plato, emphasized that the body and Spirit had nothing to do with each other – it was “body, bad; human spirit,"good.” The Old Testament Jewish notion wasn’t a whole lot different. “Flesh” to them meant human finiteness, animalistic tendencies, and mortality. It meant moral weakness and susceptibility to sin. The Spirit, however, provided miraculous power to speak prophetically and to do powerful things. So, like the Greeks, the Jews saw the sinful nature, or flesh and the Spirit as having nothing in common. (See, e.g., Genesis 6:3).

While there is a kernel of truth in these presumptions, we must be careful not to let Platonic- like philosophy influence our biblical worldview. It’s not a matter of body verse spirit. Both in worldly thought and in the church, there is an obsession with the body, and sexual matters. Many Christians feel if you can just overcome sexual sin, you’ve got it made. While important, just focusing on avoiding the immoral acts listed in this verse isn’t the end – as can be seen by the other acts of the “flesh” in the rest of the list. Paul’s focus here on "flesh" verses "Spirit" changes the focus of the struggle. The believer who is truly a “son of God,” a “child of the promise,” – truly born again and in an intimate relationship with Jesus – has had his nature changed. God’s presence now indwells and lives inside the believer. This transformation (see Galatians 2:20, 6:15 and 2 Corinthians 5:17) allows believers to live by the Spirit (Galatians 5:16) and have a new moral ability – the ability to supernaturally reflect God’s own character in the way they live.

Paul starts the list with three sexual sins. (As an aside, is this list meant to be exhaustive in any way? Most conservative bible scholars treat the other “lists” Paul makes – including the fruit of the Spirit later in this chapter, as “all there is.”) The NIV has three sexual sins listed – “sexual immorality, impurity, and debauchery.” The New American Standard and Amplified versions have the first two the same, but list “sensuality” and “indecency” respectively as the third “vice” in verse 19. The King James Version lists 4 sexual vices where the others have only three – “adultery, fornication, uncleanness, and lasciviousness.”

There are actually four words in the original Greek. The first of these four Greek words can really only be translated as “adultery. “ This has a very specific meaning – intercourse between a married person and someone not his/her spouse. The second Greek word, “porneia” (I wonder which English word has its roots here?) is a more inclusive but still quite specific term, covering any illicit sexual relationship of any kind – adultery, fornication (sex between unmarried people), homosexual or lesbian sex, bestiality, incest or any intercourse with a close relative, and intercourse with a divorced person. (This about covers any sexual relationship outside of marriage). The third Greek word here is “akatharsia,” which is a more general term. It means anything unclear in a moral sense – and while it is more often applied to sexual situations, it wasn’t necessarily limited to sex. This covers lust, the overly luxurious, and generally profligate living. This also covers the concepts of impure thoughts and motives. The last Greek word in verse 19, “aselgeia” appears to be an amplification of the one just before it. This implies unbridled lust, licentiousness (that is, unabashedly and unrestrained, shameless sexual behavior) and wantonness (over the top, careless, wild and unrestrained). This is sexual behavior that goes beyond the pale – outrageous, insolent, shameless behavior. Thus, the entire gamut of sexual issues beyond the sanctity of marriage is defined as “acts of the flesh,” ranging from impure thoughts to adultery and the most outrageous sexual behavior imaginable. It’s important to understand the specificity of Paul’s list here – not to lay condemnation but see that this is serious business. Most of the moral philosophers of Paul’s era simply condemned the excesses in indulging in the flesh, and even the Jews of that time recognized the difficulty in keeping the entirety of the law, and often excused it. But Paul is saying these behaviors, in their entirety, from motivation to full blown excess, are evil (and verse 21 contains a warning). But remember, Paul is not putting the body verses the Spirit. Rather, by making this list, he is bringing specificity to human nature, and contrasting this later with the fruit of the Spirit. These works of the “flesh” are merely the fruit of living life without God’s power and without the connection of a relationship with Him.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 5, verse 18

Galatians 5:18 “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.”

Once again, Paul brings his arguments full circle, returning to the topic of Galatians 5:1. That is, a relationship with Christ means freedom; dependence on the law means slavery.

“If you are led by the Spirit” If you are a Christian – a “son of God” (see Romans 8:14), that is, authentically Christian, in a living relationship with Jesus; if you are truly born again, then:

“you are not under the law.” To the Jew of Paul’s day, it was expected that one would observe and obey all the components of the Old Testament Law for salvation and/or sanctification. One didn’t obey the law as a means to please God per se, but one did so in order to be acceptable to God in the first place. One slip up meant the relationship with God was broken. Freedom in Christ, at least according to Galatians 5:1, frees us from this bondage, and we depend on Christ’s redemption to bring us into right relationship with God. This, of course, horrified both the traditional Jew and the Greek believers of Paul’s day, because they feared that this meant accepting Jesus as the Messiah would result in, according to Paul, Christians being free from all moral authority. That’s ridiculous, of course, but Christians are freed from the law in the sense that Israel had been under the law. The law as practiced before Jesus came to the earth did not provide the means to resist sin, or the power of sin – it only served to condemn the sinner. But the grace of God in Christ – a living relationship with Jesus that miraculously transforms us in our inner man – this enables us to resist sin and the sin nature. (Paul is about to specifically expound on that in the following verses). For the Greeks of Paul’s day, their humanistic philosophers held that the truly wise needed no laws or rules – they instinctively knew what was right. The Old Testament had a parallel for this when it spoke of the law being written on a person’s heart (e.g. Jeremiah 31:31-34). The Jews understood the concept of Israel being “led” by God, especially in its deliverance from slavery in Egypt. Indeed, that is the exact parallel. The law is slavery; redemption in Jesus is freedom. And the parallel in the struggle to resist sin, and the “flesh” is there as well – Israel, as a nation, struggled with throwing off the yoke of slavery and following God into the wilderness. Paul explains here and in places like Romans 7 the Christian’s battle with sin. But unlike the Old Testament story, we, as Christians, have a greater weapon, a clear way to true freedom – the transformational power of a relationship with Christ!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 5, verse 17

Galatians 5:17 “For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.”

The NIV translates the original Greek verb here as “desires what is contrary.” The New American Standard Version uses “sets its desires against.” The Amplified Bible uses “opposed to.” The Kings James Version uses the most colorful and extreme language in its translation – “lusts.” Obviously, verse 17 drives home the reality of the sin nature and the Spirit being diametrically opposed. But the depth and seriousness of this conflict is lost a bit in the NIV’s choice of translation. As discussed in the earlier entries for Galatians Chapter 5, the Greek work that the NIV translates as “sinful nature” literally means “flesh,” and is translated as such in the KJV. “Flesh” is an earthy word, bordering on profanity in the Greek and Jewish cultures. It really means more than just the “sinful nature,” it implies everything that encompasses human weaknesses – some versions of the bible translate this as “human nature,” and that makes a little more sense here. It implies the depth of all human weakness – sin, yes, but also mortality, aging, sickness, pain, negative emotion etc. But it also includes that which is the “positive” side of humanity and human nature, that is, striving on our own, without God’s help. Thus, “flesh” or “sinful nature” really means the worst (or best) that a person can be or become in and of himself. Paul is making two things clear – because the flesh has nothing in common with the Spirit or God’s power, a person can live his life by the Spirit – that is, in a living relationship with God through Christ and filled with the Holy Spirit, or live by the flesh – that is, live his live without any dependence on God. Galatians 5:16-18 makes it clear, you can’t have it both ways. Second, by stating “you do not do what you want,” he emphasizes the powerful nature of the conflict. This is discussed more fully in passages such as Romans 7: 15-23 and I Peter 2:11. Because we are born with a sin nature, this struggle will ensue all of our lives. It is only by living by the Spirit, in an intimate relationship with Jesus, that there is victory in this conflict.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 5, verse 16

Galatians 5:16 “So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.”

As emphasized in the analysis of the previous verse, the Judiazers’ arguments centered on the sanctity of the community – we need the rules of the Law to keep people from falling into sin and depravity. But Paul has just argued that a relationship with Jesus is based on freedom, and that slavish devotion to rules only leads to “indulging the sinful nature.” But even in freedom, we are warned to not “use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature” (5:13). It seems to be a paradox – We’re not supposed to sin, yet we’re supposed to be free from the rules. How is this going to work?

Verse 16 begins the revelation of the answer to this age-old question.

"So I say, live by the Spirit.” In the original Greek, the work translated in the NIV as “live” literally means “walk.” It was part of the Jewish cultural viewpoint of the Law to refer to following the Law’s principles as a “walk.” The Jews saw their devotion to the Law as having a relationship with the Law – it was a mindset designed to mold one’s behavior by familiarity, like becoming intimately familiar with terrain by walking through it over and over. The Greeks really had no cultural parallel for this concept. To tell a Greek of that era to “walk by the Law” or “walk by the Spirit” would have seemed foreign. Yet, this is precisely why this concept needed to be driven home. Paul is aiming his instruction at those who were familiar with and related to Jewish culture, and is encouraging them to “walk” outside of it. To give up cultural concepts and rules as a basis for defining who we are in God, and “walk” instead with and in a relationship with God Himself.

And while the word here literally means “walk” it is also proper to translate it as “to live.” The verb tense here is present, and its intensified. It could be translated as “go on living by the Spirit” or “continue to live by the Spirit.” It implies habitual conduct. The “walking” or “living” here also implies we are to be responsive to the Spirit, controlled by the Spirit, and guided by the Spirit. This goes way beyond the concept of rote obedience. Again, it’s all about RELATIONSHIP.

But I think a few things need to be established. The relationship is based on the promise. (Galatians 3:6-9). The promise and its power result in a complete transformation – we are made new. (2 Corinthians 5:17, Galatians 6:15). Our foundational nature and relationship with God is changed. We are no longer slaves to sin, but sons of God. (Galatians 3:26 – 4:7). Our ability to resist sin, the “sinful nature” or “flesh,” is not so much a matter of our will, or ability, but is based on this change of nature, and on the relationship with God, and the indwelling of His Spirit, and on the POWER of the Spirit. This change of nature, the “walk” in the Spirit that is habitual, responsive, controlled and guided is fueled by God’s limitless power. It is SUPERNATURAL. The same miraculous power that raised Jesus from the dead, that gives us miracles and gifts (Galatians 3:5 – I don’t think we can discuss this without including the essential nature of the baptism of the Holy Spirit as described in Acts 2 (and in Galatians 3:5) and the use of the gifts of the Holy Spirit in a supernatural manner), this power helps us to be free of the sinful nature, of the “flesh.” Yes, there is always choice involved, a day by day, minute by minute choice. But the combination of changed nature and indwelling power makes that choice less of a struggle – we are truly, really free! (See Galatians 5:1).

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 5, verse 15

Galatians 5:15 “If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.”

“biting and devouring each other” Cannibalism horrified both Jewish and Greek sensibilities in the ancient world. This sort of metaphor was not uncommon in Jewish texts (see, e.g., Proverbs 30:14) and would have pushed the right buttons in the audience this letter was aimed at regarding the seriousness of the situation. Focusing the metaphor on the mouth and teeth also serves to connect this concept to the fact that the dispute was really about words, the use of words, and arguing.

“you will be destroyed” The “you” here is amplified in the original Greek. It implies not just an individual, but the entire congregation. Again, the foundational principle of God’s promise in Christ is RELATIONSHIP. In these last two verses, Paul sums up how the promise is connected to and works with our relationship with each other in the Body of Christ. In verse 13, he notes we are called to freedom, we are set free in Jesus not for ourselves, but to serve (and not to serve as a slave, but to serve “in love”). Verse 14 quotes the Law of Moses to support this promise and concept – this has been the focal point of God’s plan all along! Now, here in verse 15, Paul lays out the consequences of NOT following the concepts laid out in verse 13 and 14 – relationships are destroyed, and the entire church is devastated. Verse 15, then, is the opposite of the previous two verses.

But here is an important notion – verse 13 warns that we shouldn’t use our freedom in Christ to indulge in the sinful nature. This was the main accusation the Judiazers used for insisting on obedience to the Mosaic Law – without the Law, people would do whatever they want, and sin and depravity will reign. But if you look ahead a little further, to verse 19, Paul explains the kind of behavior that proceeds from “indulging the sinful nature" as stated in verse 13. Verses 19-20 list the usual “sinful nature” type activities that come to mind when most folks visualize “indulging” that nature. “Sexual immorality, impurity, debauchery, idolatry, and witchcraft.” These sins are probably at the top of the list of concerns for the Judiazers as well. But as Paul’s list of sins continues, we see things more common to the “good people” of middle class America, things that go on in your local church community all the time – “hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, and envy.” You see, the “acts of the sinful nature,” (literally, the “flesh”) are not just limited to things like drunken orgies, drug binges, sleeping around, and bowing down to graven images – the kinds of things that much of ancient Greek society encouraged and which offended Jewish sensibilities (as well as violating God’s Law!), but include a whole bevy of “fleshly” activity that a straight laced, dignified, ceremonial (“church going,” if you will!), properly obedient to all the rituals Jewish fella (or modern day Christian) could indulge in and still appear to be respectable. Defining a person’s status and acceptability to God by the mere observance of rules and rituals produces a self-righteous, haughty, and critical spirit. By insisting on obedience to rules as the defining concept, you guarantee “indulging in the sinful nature” because the community of believers are now competing to show off their righteousness (even if only subconsciously) rather than working together in love. The ultimate result of relying on the law to save us is the destruction of relationships! And as Paul points out here, “you will be destroyed by each other.” The Devil is not to blame here, at least not so much. If we choose this path, we have no one to blame but ourselves for the ultimate destruction of our relationship with Jesus, and our relationship with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 5, verse 14

Galatians 5:14“The entire law is summed up in a single command: "Love your neighbor as yourself."

Paul connects the concepts of the previous verse to the law itself. He does this to add credibility to his argument for those who cling to the Jewish traditions. This shows that the Sadducees and Pharisees of that time had really gotten it all wrong. The real purpose of God’s law – the heart of the matter – had nothing to do with outward expression or behavior, or the proper fulfillment and performance of ritual. The heart of the matter is LOVE and a RELATIONSHIP built on love. Even the concept of being able to sum up the entire law, the hundreds of commandments that make up the Torah, in a single sentence means the law was always intended to be used in the context of relationships – as something to help us understand our relationship with God, and each other, rather than something to box us in. The law was meant to serve man, not man to serve the law. If I see my friend and fellow Christian disobey the law (in this context, meaning he is walking in sin, falling short of what God has called him to do), my attitude should be “how can I help,” not condemnation.

This verse quotes the law itself – Leviticus 19:18 – which also serves to bring Jesus himself into the argument, for He used this verse to answer the question, “What is the greatest commandment?” (See Matthew 7:12 and Mark 12:31). If Jesus Himself had this attitude and concept in mind, how can we adopt a different conclusion?

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 5, Verse 13

Galatians 5:13 “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.”

“You, my brothers” Again, Paul emphasizes the close and intimate relationship he shared with the Galatians. The use of the term “you” rather than a more all inclusive term like “us” (as in 5:1) also seems to emphasize the intimate nature of a relationship with Jesus.

“were called to be free” The verb translated here as “were called” is in an intensified form. It also could be translated as “were indeed called.” It’s a higher calling. A stronger calling. The ultimate calling. Plus, the use of the word “calling” also emphasizes the concept of the RELATIONSHIP (remember, it is a universal truth and one of the major themes of this letter – everything in God’s Kingdom comes down to RELATIONSHIP). A “call” means God chose us; He reached out to us; He spoke our name. Think of the story of the prodigal son. He thought that he had made the decision to return to his Father. But it was the Father who was waiting all along. “Call” means God is the author of the promise. We can’t do anything ourselves to complete it. Think of your Mom or Dad, preparing the family dinner, and then calling everyone to eat. Our response is to gratefully come to the table, sit down, and partake.

“But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature” Paul ties up this first section of Galatians 5 by returning to his opening thesis in 5:1 – the freedom we walk in is a gift from God, so don’t abuse it. Paul has already touched on this concept in this letter in a variety of ways – look back at 3:15-24 for a discussion of the purpose of the law, and freedom from the law’s constraints – but the implication here is that the law’s guidelines help define the limits that we should live within. Romans 6:1 states that the freedom we have in Christ does not give us a license to sin. 1 Peter 2:16 says the same thing, emphasizing that if freedom in Christ is real, it can’t be used as a front to cover up a life of sin. Paul is tying up his original thesis in 5:1 and transitioning into the next section, which emphasizes personal righteousness and integrity. But if freedom is NOT a license for our personal fulfillment (this is the “American Way,” no? Thomas Jefferson’s language in the Declaration of Independence has become the mantra in our society – we have a right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”) or to do “what we want,” then what is it for? Paul answers this rhetorical question in the very next phrase --

“rather, serve one another in love” At this point, I want to shout “Ah ha!,” or "Eureka!," for this simple truth is really the core concept here. “Freedom,” therefore wasn’t designed for us as individuals, to set us “free” to do whatever we want to do, but to equip us to serve God and each other – in love! The context of the words translated here as “indulge the sinful nature” implies “selfishness.” That’s the key. Of course, the freedom Christ brings to us has great, even incalculable personal benefit. But the real purpose in setting us free from sin and bondage is so we can be useful for God. Now, the way I phrased that last sentence makes it sound like the emphasis is back on “works,” that is, on what we do. But God seeks to set us free in order to bring us into right relationship with Him. He showers us with love and gifts, redeems us from hell, communes with us, abides with us, and makes us a part of His family. We are free from the law – that is, we no longer need to earn God’s favor. But what do we do with that freedom? The purpose of “freedom in Christ” is to allow us to creatively, personally, and intimately respond back to God in love – to serve Him with all of our hearts.

Let’s go back to the family dinner analogy. I am called by God to come to the table. I don’t have to pay for my meal, like in a restaurant, I’m part of the family now. I am free to choose what I eat, and how much. (I personally struggle with my weight, and with overeating, so this concept strikes a chord with me). If I choose to not eat a balanced meal, or to overeat, or just eat dessert, or to sneak a snack of junk food before I get to the table so that my appetite is ruined, the result is easy to see. At best, I’ll get fat and be unfit for the hard work I need to do -- the work God set me free to do! At worst, I’ll get sick and eventually be of no use to anyone. I will also displease and disappoint my Father, who gave so much to provide me with such a fine meal, and the freedom to enjoy it. I will end up not being in right fellowship with him. I won’t be thrown out of the family, or not be allowed to come to dinner anymore (that is, I won’t lose my salvation), but I will bring a world of trouble onto myself, and be of little use to God in the sense that there will be good chance I will miss out on the specific purposes God called me to because of my irresponsibility. My freedom is a gift I am to use with responsibility.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 5, verse 12

Galatians 5:12 “As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!”

Paul’s sarcasm and wit combine with his passion and anger here. He uses similar wordplay as he did back in 5:7 -- the verb translated as “cut off” or “cut in” could be applied to cutting in front of a runner in a race, or surgical cutting in the practice of circumcision. Here, Paul is even more direct, but the wordplay still has double meaning. The Greek word used here could mean either “cut off” or “castrate.” Most of the more literal translations of the Bible (like the KJV) render this as “cut off,” implying that what Paul primarily means here is that he wishes the Judiazers would “cut off” their fellowship with the church. This is logical, in the overall context, but there is also a subtext here,and most other translations connect this verb with the concept of circumcision in this discussion, and translate it as “mutilate,” “emasculate,” or even “castrate.” Paul is certainly not being explicit or prurient, but his passionate approach and deep affection for the Galatians indicates that an insult like this is certainly not beneath him. He is far more passionate in his criticism of the Judiazers than in the blame of the Galatians themselves. Another interesting concept, however, is that while circumcision was required by Jewish law, and therefore common to every Jewish family, Roman society viewed the practice with horror and disdain. Years later, Emperor Hadrian would outlaw circumcision as a barbaric practice. But Paul’s insult here has a particularly Jewish irony. Many of the pagan cultures in and around Palestine in the Old Testament and even in Paul’s day included castration as a part of their religious or social rites (including the Greek cultures of the people of Galatia), and Jews had a traditional strong disdain for eunuchs (i.e. castrated males – see Deuteronomy 23:1). For a Jewish man to intimate that another Jewish man should be castrated would truly be a cultural insult -- and in the context of the underlying them of Paul's attack on racism/cultural identity in this letter, it seems appropriately ironic.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 5, verse 11

Galatians 5:11 Brothers, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished

“Brothers” Again, we have the “intimacy” factor carrying over from the previous verse. Paul believes the readers of this letter are truly born-again Christians, truly brothers in the Lord in every way that the term applies, and expresses the inherent family-like relationship of the kingdom. Paul truly loves these people.

“If I am still preaching circumcision” A rhetorical question – the usual way a Gentile converted to Judaism was circumcision for males, and baptism for males and females, but the concept of a relationship with Christ is so much more. The implication is that Paul has been accused of preaching circumcision as necessary for salvation, along with the Judiazers. Or perhaps Paul was being slandered as being sympathetic to the Judiazers because he himself was ethnically Jewish. The confusion caused by this heresy and the ethnic intimidation among the Galatians was great.

“why am I still being persecuted?” If Paul were simply converting Gentiles to Judaism, the Jews, in particular the Judiazers, would not be against him, or object to what he’s doing. The Judiazers were more sensitive to their own cultural expectations than to those of the Galatians. Aw, that was too polite – to be blunt, they were bigots. The Jews of Paul’s day looked down on Gentiles as inferior, and objected to the concept of such inferiors being accepted into the faith simply by believing in Jesus. This is also the great sin of modern American Christianity – the cultural segregation of the church. Looking ahead to Galatians 6: 12-13, we see the real reason for the Judiazers insisting on circumcision is cultural conformity, pride, and to blend in, in order to "stay out of trouble" with the bellicose faction of Jewish believers who insisted on outward adherence to the minutiae of the law. Believing in Jesus proves to be risky in worldly culture. The “persecution” here comes from the Judiazers themselves, reacting to this very concept. Examples of this kind of thing in the cities of Galatia are found in Acts 13 & 14, where the reaction to Paul’s preaching and the conversion of the Gentile population was for the Jews in the region to stir up persecution. A comparable situation would be the civil rights advocates who tried to “preach” freedom and equality in the South in the mid-20th century – the white establishment often reacted the same way the Jewish elites did in Acts 13 &14.

“In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished.” Romans 9: 32-22 and I Corinthians 1:23 both reference the cross as a “stumbling block” for Jews, and ‘foolishness” for Greeks. The Jews cling to (and even today, they still do) the need to obey the law to prove their worthiness. If you need a physical act to be saved, if any part of being right before God depends on what we do, then the cross (and Christ’s sacrificial death) is meaningless. That's the simple truth, though even many ardently evangelical Christians fail to understand this concept.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 5, verse 10

Galatians 5:10 I am confident in the Lord that you will take no other view. The one who is throwing you into confusion will pay the penalty, whoever he may be.

“I am confident in the Lord that you will take no other view” The first sentence of verse 10 is an interesting insertion.. As he has in other sections of the letter, (see, e.g., 4: 11-21) Paul is letting his personal emotions show, and his deep affection for the people of the Galatian churches. This also speaks to the previous references in the letter to a real, authentic conversion experience by the members of the Galatian churches, a real relationship with Jesus (see, e.g., 3: 1-5). The implication here is that the faith of the Galatians was and is (at the time Paul wrote the letter) real – they really ARE children of the promise. While Paul says his confidence is in the Lord, what he really means is he has confidence in the Lord TOWARDS the Galatians, and that the “other view” they will not take -- the position they will maintain is to really coming to agree with the truth Paul is teaching – they will be of one mind with Him. How can Paul have this kind of confidence? How can he be assured that the Galatians, as screwed up about theology and the nature of God and salvation as they are, as ethnically prejudiced as they are, will come around? How can Paul be so confident of failed, fallen humans? Because of the PROMISE!!!! The Galatians, as a people (as a congregation, meaning most of them) had truly come to know Jesus. That is, truly born again! As Paul had been arguing throughout this book, the promise of God through faith in Jesus can never be negated. Paul is simply expressing this reality – We can’t be saved by what we do, or what group we belong to – therefore, we can’t be lost once we’ve come into a real relationship with God by what we do or what group we choose to identify with or exclude. The Promise never fails.

“The one who is throwing you into confusion will pay the penalty, whoever he may be”
The level of difficulty here is hard to determine. The word translated here as “throwing into confusion” is presented as “troubling you,” “unsettling you,” or “disturbing you” in other translations. I have a sense that the NIV is closer to the literal meaning with “throwing into confusion,” (this is serious business, and we wouldn’t have this letter if this wasn’t crucial), but the less intense words in other translations seem better in the context of the preceding sentence – this is not a matter that ultimately robs or affects the Galatians regarding their salvation, but is merely a bump in the road for them.

“The one . . . whoever he may be.” Paul does not absolve the Galatians from blame for these issues (see 3: 1-5), but here it is made clear that the greater blame rests with those who are trying to deceive them. Paul does not identify who they are – there were probably many. But by leaving it vague, he also seems to imply that there is a demonic “spiritual warfare” side to this battle as well. He seems to identify a singular “one” that represents the many Judiazers – this would imply a satanic, “borg” like concept (you Star Trek fans will catch on to my reference) of demonic control over a large group of people.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 5, Verse 9

Galatians 5:9 "A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough."

While most other bible translations don’t do this, the NIV places this verse in quotation marks, emphasizing that the phrase is a proverb, a universal saying of sorts, kind of like “a stitch in time saves nine” and such. “Yeast” represents evil when used in the Bible as a metaphor, especially with regard to teaching or theological deception. Exodus 12:15 requires that yeast must be removed from a Jewish household prior to Passover – a rite of purification and cleansing from sin. In Matthew 16: 5-12, Jesus explains at length to his disciples about guarding “against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” (Matthew 16: 6, 11). This section directly connects the “yeast” with the false teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. (Matthew 6:12). In Luke 12:1, Jesus gives a similar caution, but himself identifies the issue with the “yeast of the Pharisees” as the sin of hypocrisy. In I Corinthians 5:6-8, Paul uses the same proverb as here in Galatians 5:9, but elaborates, making the connection to Exodus and the Passover – the need for cleansing and the celebration of redemption in the Passover now realized in its fullness in the person of Jesus. But in the I Corinthians passage, the “yeast” is connected with church members openly practicing sexual immorality, as well as dissension, malice, and other forms of wickedness.

The obvious truth of this proverb makes its meaning plain. Just a pinch of yeast is enough to affect the whole lump of dough. Yeast is itself is a living organism, and affects the bread, or rather, INFECTS it. It’s like a virus to the human body. Only a slight inclination to error or a few people teaching a false doctrine is enough. These seemingly small influences can and will pervert the entire conception of faith in an individual, or mislead an entire congregation.

While some theological points may be as important, this one is foundational. Requiring adherence to a standard of conduct or especially an outward ritual to be “saved” or acceptable to the church community perverts and negates the sacrifice of Christ. Wrapping that concept up in a package of racial or ethnic custom is no different. Think of it this way – a person or group that has right-on, orthodox theology but can’t accept someone because of a racial or cultural issue is like a pure glass of water with an eye-dropper full of sewage added. Would you drink it? Is that acceptable?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 5, Verse 8

Galatians 5:8 That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you.

The word for “persuasion” here implies that the influence is evil or wicked. Starting in the previous verse (verse 7), when Paul asks “who” interrupted the “good race,” the blame for all this confusion is being placed and the spotlight is aimed at the real culprit – the Judiazers. Of course, Paul is not letting the Galatians off the hook – but this section of scripture recognizes the reality of spiritual warfare and the insidious nature of deception. Paul does not mince words here or in the next few verses regarding who is ultimately to blame, the price they will pay, and the difficulty of discerning truth once deception takes hold.

“does not come from the one who calls you” The “call” here is from Jesus, of course, but the context here implies it is the call from the God who made the promise to Abraham – the one who calls us to freedom in Christ. So the context is clear, Paul is contrasting this “kind of persuasion” versus the “call.” The character of the persuader is evil, the one who “calls” is righteous and true. Even the verbs used imply the character of the source – the evil one needs to persuade, to argue, to distort truth in order to weasel their way in. The Lord is “calling” – an invitation, rather than a debate, a notice, rather than a treatise. It’s the difference between the call from Dad and the call from your college professor, or, better yet, the call from the country club. You don’t need a pedigree or a letter of reference to come back home. The father of the prodigal son calls and waits – and celebrates when the prodigal returns home, after the “race” was interrupted.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 5, Verse 7

Galatians 5:7: You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth?

Paul uses the metaphor of a race, of athletic competition, to portray the Christian life in several places in his writings (e.g. Philippians 2:16, and here in Galatians 2:2). The implications of this verse are similar to what we just discussed above in Galatians 5:4 – this is not to imply that getting “off course” means we can lose our salvation. But we CAN choose to engage in behavior that will lead us off the course. We’re not disqualified from the team, so to speak, but God’s purposes in our lives is delayed or thwarted – by the choices we make, or the way in which we react to circumstances. This concept is borne out in I Corinthians 3: 10-15. The foundation is Christ – through the promise, not by what we do or who we are. This is our entry INTO the race. But then, we build on the foundation, or run in the race. We will be judged for what we do, and our reward in heaven will be based on this (see I Cor. 3:13-15). But, our ability to get into or enter heaven is based solely on the promise – on the foundation. (I Cor. 3:11). To use another sports analogy, the promise gets us a ticket to the game, but what we build on, as per I Corinthians 3, or how we run the race as described here will determine how good our seat will be. The Galatian churches WERE running a good race – they had been on track, with a vibrant, living relationship with Christ. But something happened. The Judiazers “cut in.” This is another play on words. “Cutting in” could of course cause a runner to fall, be pushed off the course, or lose his focus. It is also a play on words for the concept of circumcision, which is a surgical procedure. Relying on rules, or on an outward concept rather than an inner change – even relying on ethnicity, culture, or denomination to define our relationship with God and with each other keeps us from “obeying the truth.” In other words, its “rebellion.” Plain and simple. The blatant sin here cannot be disguised.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 5, Verse 6

Galatians 5:6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

“For in Christ Jesus” This verse is sort of a “proof text.” By that, I mean it’s a summary of the reality and truth of the Gospel message, and therefore of Paul’s entire argument/presentation here in the book of Galatians. Its like an “if-then” statement. Another way to translate this opening phrase is “If we are in Christ Jesus, then . . . “ The power; no-- the REALITY of Jesus in our lives proves itself by the fundamental transformation manifest in our lives. This, of course, is because of Jesus, and our living relationship with Him, and not our own efforts.

“neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value” This is the obvious conclusion of all of Paul’s arguments in the letter, and in other places in Paul’s writings. This is the practical reality of this spiritual truth. In Galatians 2:21, 5:2, 6:15, as well as over in I Corinthians 7:19, Paul expresses the very same concept. But in this context, this helps complete our “proof,” our “if-then” statement. If we are in Jesus, then – obedience to the law, or any set of rules, doesn’t count. By the same token, because obedience to the law for the Galatians meant adopting ethnically Jewish customs and discarding their own native culture – in other words, to become Jewish, rather than Greek – the if we are in Christ, then matters of race, ethnicity, culture, denomination, language, music style, etc. don’t count. Galatians 6:15 says the very same thing, but with the opposite emphasis – it is the “new creation” that counts!

“The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” James 2:18-19 states that “faith without works” is useless. Some have tried to use that passage to prove that in order to be right with God, there must be some sort of obedience to rules, some sort of “good deed” in order to please God, or in order to be saved. In other words, to rely on just “faith” is not enough. That is not what James means, and its not what Paul is saying here. In the context of this verse – again, as a “proof text,” – Paul is making a very important distinction. Faith is not simply an intellectual assent, or some sort of abstract theological principle. Faith serves as the foundation for our relationship with God, but it serves as the spark that ignites the fuse. REAL Faith is a living force in our lives. It activates and energizes (verbs implied here in the original Greek) our relationship with God. We aren’t doing anything in and of ourselves – no good deeds or outward obedience is involved – but it’s the relationship we now have with God through faith, its our transformed nature, the concept of being a “new creation” that begins a process, a change. Faith is more than agreeing with God – it’s a living, transformational trusting in the grace of God. This will express itself in acts of love. In I Thessalonians 1:3, Paul notes that the Thessalonian Christians have produced good things in their lives through faith – “good work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by Hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” This is not describing people being obedient so as to earn “brownie points” on the heavenly ledger. This is describing a change in nature; this is NEW CREATION!!!. What is being “expressed through love” here is not just an effort to be obedient, but a life so changed by Christ through the relationship made possible by God’s unconditional grace, that it now simply desires to do good in response to the unfathomable love of God! The word in this verse for “love” in the original Greek is “agape.” This is the highest, noblest word for love in the Greek language; it is unconditional, unlimited love, love with no boundaries – indeed, it is the love expressed in John 3:16, where it says, “For God so loved the world . . .”

In the context of our “proof text,” then, the proof is complete –

If we are in Christ, then

1. Obedience to the law doesn’t count;
2. Ethnicity and culture doesn’t count;
3. We ARE transformed, we are “new creations;” and
4. This transformation will be made manifest in us – other people will see that the grace of God, by faith, is the thing that has changed and transformed us.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 5, Verse 5

Galatians 5:5 But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope.

“But by faith” Obviously, this phrase is the essence of Paul’s arguments through out this book/letter. The original language implies that the opposite sentiment is present as well – the New International Version uses the world “but” to reflect this – What this should or could say is “Not relying on the law,not relying on what WE do -- but by faith.”

“we eagerly await through the Spirit” This is the HOLY Spirit, of course. While Paul has not made the Holy Spirit his focal point for much of Galatians (he did use the presence of the Spirit and the Galatians’ operating in the gifts of the Spirit as the indicia of receiving Christ by faith rather than through obedience to the Law back in 3:2-5), but he is about to start doing so in 5:10, discussing life lived in the Holy Spirit, and freedom from the law AND from sin.

“the righteousness for which we hope.” There is very little eschatology in the book of Galatians. But here, this verse discussed how Paul and the Galatians, at that time, were “eagerly await[ing]” this “righteousness,” and that they waited in “hope.” Most of the arguments in Galatians have dealt with the here and now – how faith in Jesus, rather than obedience to the law, makes us acceptable to God now, as we are. I suppose there is always an implied concept of heaven and eternal life, but here it’s no longer implied. This verse’s “hope” apparently looks forward to the hope we all have for eternal life – our heavenly reward. It also implies the hope for the return of Christ, the end of the age, where all things will be made complete, and we all will be one with the Lord. Indeed, the implication for completeness is clear. There is a duality that Paul has only hinted at in the rest of the letter, a duality he will now begin to emphasize as Chapter 5 progresses. There are two realities at work here. The first has been emphasized by Paul’s arguments since Chapter 3 – there is a blessing and good that comes immediately through faith in Christ – by faith, we are in right standing with God in the here and now. We are instantaneously free. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Yet faith in Christ is not just an end, but a beginning – the start of a process. There is the beginning of a change in our lives, as we conform to God’s will and in our purpose, in our thoughts, in our actions. This is what we “hope” for, anticipate, and wait for. After a lifetime with Christ (which can be short or long, from cradle to grave, or a confession moments before death – only God determines), we will stand before the judgment seat of Christ, where he will pronounce a final “not guilty.” The dichotomy, the duality, is this “not guilty” is assured in the here and now through “the promise” Paul has emphasized throughout Galatians, while the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit works in us to defeat our sin nature. This same reality and dichotomy is present in the world at large – Christ has redeemed us, and offers His redemption to all, but there is also a spiritual war going on that will culminate in Christ’s return. We all “eagerly await” and “hope” for all of this. The promise redeems us now, and will continue to “work out our salvation” (see Philippians 2:12) until the end of our lives OR until the Lord returns.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 5, Verse 4

Galatians 5:4 You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.

As we have been emphasizing over and over again throughout these studies and meditations on the Book of Galatians, the defining concept about what it meant to be a Jew in Paul’s day – and even today – is that a Jewish person was born into the covenant by virtue of being Jewish – ethnically. Of course, this is the very thing Paul has been arguing against all along here – not against Judaism per se – but against any kind of ethnic exclusivity for the covenant promise. Yet, even Jews recognized that one can be cut-off from the covenant by refusing to obey it. The NIV uses the word “alienate” here. Other translations present this word as “separated” or “severed,” which suggests something harsher than “alienate” or even the King James Version’s “no effect.”

“You have fallen away from grace” Paul has clearly established that salvation is only by Christ (see, e.g., Galatians 2:21). Paul seems to be saying – even emphatically – that seeking salvation any other way leads to being “severed” – cut off.

This last phrase – “fallen away from grace” – is troubling, in that it seems to state that a believer in the promise, by returning to a reliance on obedience to the law in order to be saved, “falls away from grace,” is alienated, cut off – exiled from the promise. This is a difficult construct, and would appear to contradict all of Paul’s earlier arguments about the promise taking precedence over the law. Is Paul suggesting that one can lose their salvation?

I don’t think so. While passages such as 2 Peter 2:20-22 and 2 Peter 3:17 seem to allow for this concept, the clear teaching of John 10:27-30 (especially verse 28), Romans 8:28-39, and much of Paul’s arguments from Galatians chapter 3 and 4 explain that no genuinely saved person can be lost. So what does Paul mean here by “fallen away from grace?”

As an initial aside, I believe we can temper some of the “severity” of this argument somewhat by considering Paul’s word choices and the art of rhetoric. The focus of this entire section is Paul’s arguments against the specific Jewish religious/legal requirement of circumcision. Beginning here, Paul will use words that reflect violence, physical mutilation and words that can be used to describe literal “cutting” as a rhetorical word-play to accentuate his arguments against this practice. The use of the Greek word for “alienate” in the NIV, which literally means “severed,” fits into this concept.

Also, we need to take the statement “fallen away from grace” in the context of the rest of the Letter. Paul has been focusing on the concept of slavery. In Galatians 3:22, 4:8-11 and then in the section just preceding Chapter 5 (Galatians 4:21-31, the “figurative” argument regarding Hagar & Sarah), the emphasis has been on being slaves to the Law. Then, in 5:1, Paul warns the Galatians to not be “burdened” again by a yoke of slavery. All of these passages, combined with the current verse, suggest that a genuinely saved “child of the promise” can choose to live like a slave again.

Indeed, the language of this passage implies that a true believer can willfully place themselves outside the scope of God’s divine favor. How? Remember, trying to gain God’s favor by observing the law is mutually exclusive from receiving God’s favor through His grace. Recall the curse Paul discussed in Galatians 3:1-14 (“All who rely on observing the law are under a curse”). 2 Peter 3:17 warns us to be on guard so that “you may not be carried away by error.” Taken in the context of the rest of Galatians, and indeed, the whole of Scripture, this is not a statement about losing one’s salvation – but rather an indicator that the Galatians were deceived. We can fool ourselves, and choose to live like a slave, and reap the bitter fruit of that spiritual mindset and lifestyle. But a truly saved person doesn’t lose their salvation by making this choice. Some will point to the aforementioned citations in the Second Letter of Peter , and even Galatians 5:21 along with this passage as evidence that salvation can be “reversed.” Well, I don’t buy it. Even 2:Peter 2:22 ends the argument by saying “a dog returns to its vomit” and “a sow that is washed goes back to her wallowing in the mud.” In both cases, the nature of the animal has not changed. The sow is still by nature a pig – the “wash” was merely a cosmetic change. Paul says elsewhere in 2 Corinthians 5:17 “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” Later on in Galatians 6:15 he says “Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation.” God sees our hearts. There must be a fundamental change – I don’t think the 2 Peter discussion is speaking of that. Plus, Romans 6, 7, & 8 and later on in Galatians 5, there is plenty of discussion of the ongoing struggle with the sin nature in the life of a true believer. The good news is, even when we make a mistake, and choose to live in the slavery of the law and/or sin, however incrementally we may choose, the promise is NEVER invalidated. Just read on to the next verse, and look back at Galatians 4:26-28 and 2:17-21. Our status as “sons” cannot change.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 5, verses 2 & 3

Galatians 5:2 Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. <3> Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law.

“Mark my words!” The Greek word translated here as “mark my words” etc. turns up slightly different in other English translations of the Bible. For example, the King James Version has this as “Behold, I Paul say unto you.” I think the original Greek comes off better in the context of the NIV, at least to the average American, down to the exclamation point. Paul is emphatic in driving home the concept of RELATIONSHIP and his covenant level connection to the Galatians. He is saying, “Hey! Look! Its ME talking here!” And by doing this, he is calling to mind the credentials he has with the Galatians. These include his experience, depth of relationship with God, his integrity and testimony (see Galatians 1:13 – 2:10) the history of their shared relationship (see Galatians 4:12-19) and even his own investment and personal risk in standing up for what is true (see Galatians 2:11-21). Paul’s integrity and reputation WAS Christianity in the Gentile World. It would be a little bit like the Pope addressing Catholics, or Billy Graham addressing evangelicals today – but more so, because Paul was directly and personally involved with the Galatians, and had introduced them to Jesus, had personally planted these churches. Authentic, lateral brotherly relationships based in the Holy Spirit and upon the Word of God are the currency of the Christian life.

Then, in both verse 2 and 3, Paul gives us a double barreled ultimatum of truth. Verse 2 phrases it personally – “if you let yourselves be circumcised.” Verse 3 broadens it to universality – “every man.” Repeating a principle in successive verses/sentences like this for emphasis – even making the second statement broader and more emphatic than the first – was a common Hebraic and rabbinical argument technique. The book of Proverbs, even Jesus himself used this concept many times in the scriptures.

Of course, the Jews of Paul’s time had a concept that Gentiles could be “saved.” A righteous, God fearing Gentile could be “saved” by keeping the seven laws/principles God gave to Noah (I tried to look at this concept in a general sense back in the our discussions in this Journal involving Galatians 3). But to truly be a part of the covenant, if a gentile was to convert to Judaism, he would be required, like all devout Jews, to keep all 613 specific commandments given to Israel at Mt. Sinai (well, that’s 613 by rabbinical count). The Jewish tradition – even before Paul’s day – was that the law was a symbiotic whole. Each piece was dependent upon the other. A devout Jew was required to keep every commandment. Rejecting any single part was a rejection of the whole.

The point Paul wants to make is another “legal argument” and is found here in verse 3 – by accepting circumcision, the Galatians were obligating themselves to strict obedience to the entire Jewish law. However, Paul has already noted the impossibility of this standard -- no one can possibly keep the entirety of the Mosaic law (see Galatians 3:10-12) and how the Galatians had really adopted an “ale carte” view of Jewish law, tradition, and culture, leading to a strange blend of pagan and Jewish rules and customs (see Galatians 4:8-11). Clearly, the Galatians' approach wasn’t working.

In the midst of this discussion, Paul sums up the entire purpose of the letter. If you submit to the rules of circumcision – an outward physical change that really has no bearing on your heart or your interrelationship with God or man – then Jesus has no value.

“No value?” Wait a minute, that’s pretty heavy! But its absolutely true, and, it works on two levels.

The first is the more obvious. To rely on something outward, on something we do in and of ourselves as a behavioral action to make ourselves acceptable to God invalidates the promise. If, by obeying a rule, we can be made right with God, then we don’t need the sacrifice of Christ for redemption or salvation. Jesus truly is of “no value.”

The second level is more subtle, but all the more heretical. Circumcision was as much a cultural concept in Judaism as a spiritual principle. Every Jewish male received circumcision as a right of passage. I do not want to seem to belittle this as a cultural concept, but it served as an initiation ceremony – in some ways not unlike the “cloak and dagger” secret initiation ceremonies in college fraternities, or Fred Flinstone putting on the horned hat to be a member of the Water Buffalo Lodge. This is because the essence of fraternities, lodges, even street gangs, is relationship! But like street gangs and fraternities, the Judiazers insisted on conformity to an outward, cultural standard to be acceptable. These are all corruptions of the truth, which requires a mere acceptance of the promise and then the fruit is a living relationship with God. To rely on a cultural concept as trivial as an initiation ceremony to define our acceptability to God and each other is to reject Christ. If we use this standard in any way to define who is acceptable to God, or to us, we reject Christ. Skin color, language, ethnicity, neighborhood, educational level, musical style/genre, denomination, economic strata, size of family, political view, anything – If these become our measuring standards for God’s kingdom, Christ truly has “no value!”

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 5, Verse 1

Galatians 5:1 It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

The first verse of chapter 5 is really the final summation of all the arguments that proceeded it – going all the way back to Galatians 3:1.

“It is for freedom that Christ has set you free” The King James version of the Bible has this verse translated and phrased more like the original Greek. It says “Stand fast, therefore, in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free.” The New International Version (quoted above) separates the phrase “stand firm” from the first phrase. But the original Greek ties it all together. We are not just to “stand firm,” but to stand firm IN the freedom Christ provides. This might seem to be “niggling,” but it is in keeping with the overall theme of the book – we cannot “stand firm” by a mere act of our will, or by our own efforts, but only by being “in Christ,” in a living RELATIONSHIP with Christ.

The word “freedom” here means many things on many levels. The implication here, the ultimate meaning, is complete and total liberation from the bondage of the law and, as Paul will explain in more detail in Chapter 5, from the bondage of sin. But there are further subtleties here. Just like “freedom” in English, the Greek word for “freedom” can mean many things, and the interpretations of the word in both languages have parallels.

There are three basic meanings for “freedom” in Greek, and all three apply here:

1) Freedom as in choice – the most common understanding of this word is the ability to do or omit things that have no relationship to salvation. By using this particular word (rather than a derivative, like the word for “free” later in the first phrase of this verse), Paul (or better yet, the Holy Spirit through Paul) is actually helping to emphasize the underlying theme of the unimportance of culture, race, or ethnicity as defining factors in our relationship with God and with each other. All of the arguments made so far in this letter have focused on the concept that it is unnecessary to conform to the requirements of the law of Moses (in other words, to become a Jew and adopt the culture of the Jews) in order to be saved, or be acceptable to God. True freedom, then, is the ability to choose to worship God in any manner that is fit. Style does not matter. The key factor is to be a child of the promise (as Paul pointed out in the previous section where he compared Hagar to Sarah), that is, truly born again. The place, manner, and “order” of worship is really not relevant to salvation. Our lifestyle choices do not matter either (unless they are “contrary to the Spirit” as Paul will emphasize later in Galatians 5: 16-26).

2) Freedom as in license – the freedom to do as we please. Of course, this is not the antinomianism discussed back in Chapter 3 – this is not a license to sin. Paul makes this clear as a major theme here in Chapter 5. But, freedom from the law, and the bondage of sin, brings a new exuberance to our relationship with God. Call it a license to serve, a license for joy, a license to open up your heart and relate in authenticity – the sky’s the limit. Freedom in Christ has no boundaries (again, not in the sense that we are free to sin, but that God’s possibilities in us and through us are limitless!).

3) Freedom to be responsible; freedom to be obedient. This is true freedom. This is a melding together of the first two definitions. It is the concept of living as we should, rather than just as we want. This is explained in detail later in this Chapter, in verses 13-26 – that is, the death of our sinful nature, and our new life in the power of the Spirit. This is often confused with legalism. Some argue, “How can you say you’re free, when you insist on a code of behavior, like refraining from the list of “sinful desires” in Galatians 5?” It’s really not a matter of do’s and don’ts. Once we are filled with the Spirit, the transformation of our lives in our relationship with Jesus produces virtue – and frees us from the bondage of these “sinful desires.”

While an inexact comparison, this is sort of like the United States Constitution. Under the Constitution’s text, we are guaranteed specific rights and liberties. But it also requires that we live responsibly so as not to violate those rights in other people’s lives or society generally. It is this second principle that is lost on most Americans.

The word “free” at the end of this sentence/phrase implies deliverance. We have been set free from the bondage of sin, and the law – from the dominion of sin.

“stand firm” A command, and a warning. The implication is that this freedom can be lost, or at least impinged upon. It implies that we have to fight for this freedom -- that we need to be aggressive about it.

“do not let yourselves” The primary meaning and understanding of the word “freedom” involves choice. Paul is imploring, indeed, he is commanding that we not make the wrong choice.

“be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” A yoke was a heavy piece of wood that held a team of horses or oxen together to work as a team. An individual is helpless to move against the force of the yoke, for where the group is led by the master, the individual is compelled to follow. In a positive sense, a yoke would be used for an untrained animal, to teach it what to do, to train it, and then remove the yoke once the animal was properly accustomed to the work (e.g. in Matthew 11:29, when Jesus says “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me.”). The obvious implied meaning here is the “yoke” of the law on the Gentiles. Peter spoke of a “yoke” in the same manner in his speech at the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15:10-11. But in the context of Galatians 5, Paul means all of this, but so much more.

The word for “burdened’ here also means to be trapped, ensnared, or entangled. Picture an insect caught in a spider’s web. This is more than assenting to a concept – it is a force that will engulf and destroy you!

“yoke of slavery” This is more than just the law. In the context of the theme I’ve emphasized throughout these meditations, it of course means race, ethnicity, and culture, and the reliance on those things to define a person’s acceptability in God’s eyes. In the context of the rest of this chapter, it means slavery to sin.

This last point is the key concept for the individual Christian – and for most of us. The little word “again” stuck in the middle of it all is so very important. Galatians chapters 3 and 4 made it clear that the promise predates and overrides the Law, and that the promise is eternal, and unconditional. But Galatians 5:1 makes it evident that even a child of the promise, and heir of the Father (see Galatians 4:1-7) can choose to live in slavery. This was the ultimate problem facing the Galatians. It is a choice I am faced with every day of my life.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 4, Verse 31

Galatians 4:31 Therefore, brothers, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman.

Paul wraps up his “figurative” argument (see Galatians 4:24). There is an old cliché, that when you see the word “therefore” in the Bible, you need to look closer, and see what its “there for.”

First, Paul once again refers to the Galatians as “brothers.” In the commentary on verse 28 here in chapter 4, we discussed how this reference – referring to his readers as brothers – was for Paul a simple statement of truth – a spiritual reality. Its more than just a term of endearment, or an indication of a close relationship. The Galatians had a real relationship with Christ – they were truly born again, truly part of God’s family. This is driven home by Paul’s use of the word “we.” Paul is one with the Galatians. The foundational concept of RELATIONSHIP is really the most important thing. (As I have repeatedly referenced before, one of my spiritual heroes, Charles Simpson, once said that “everything in the Kingdom of God boils down to the concept of RELATIONSHIP.”)

The rest of verse 31 is a simple summary of the entire book. The slave woman stands for the natural, the flesh, and trying to obtain righteousness by our own efforts. The free woman stands for the supernatural, and grace, and the promises of God. The truly born again believer is not enslaved by the law (see Galatians 3:22-25), but a child of the promise (see Galatians 3:6-9), and lives by faith. The focus of the “natural,” side is on that which is connected to the temporal world – that which we see, feel, hear etc. – the external. This includes matters such as the color of our skin, our language, what we wear, our ethnicity, or culture, the music we listen to and use in our worship services, the place we live etc. The focus on the “supernatural” side is on that which is connected to heavenly realms – on the person of Jesus, the Holy Spirit’s transformational power, God’s grace and forgiveness, and most importantly, our relationship with Jesus, and because of that, our relationship with each other.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 4, Verse 30

Galatians 4:30 But what does the Scripture say? "Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman's son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman's son."

“But what dies the Scripture say?” All along, Paul has used the Old Testament Scriptures to buttress his agreements. Here, he uses such a reference to complete the “figurative” concept he started back in verse 24. It was vitally important for Paul to anchor his arguments in the Pentateuch – the “Law of Moses” – as he has done throughout the letter, to add the most support, as he continues to turn the very proofs the Judiazers relied upon against them.

Here, he cites to Genesis 21:10 – actually, he quotes it, to complete his Sarah/Hagar analogy. And once again, Paul turns the very words/arguments/beliefs of the Judiazers against them, as if a self fulfilling prophecy, or a spoken curse – or a bitter-root judgment, that comes back upon the person who speaks it, like when a child makes a rash vow such as “I’ll never by like my Parents,” and ends up growing up to be just like them. In this case, the Judiazers argued that uncircumcised Gentiles were not worthy to participate in the covenant. Paul proves its just the opposite, quoting Genesis 21:10. In that passage, it became clear to Sarah that Ishmael had to be put out of the camp. Ishmael and Isaac cannot and could not both inherit the promise. So it is with Paul’s opponents in Galatia. Hagar’s “line” cannot inherit with Sarah’s – and Sarah demands that Hagar’s “line” be banished. Paul is intimating the same here – the spiritual descendants of Ishmael – the Judiazers – should be put out of the church.

It is not clear in the scripture if this was an option for the Galatians, and it appears that this did not actually happen. And the literal application of this in the context of the modern church is problematic – being “drummed out” of the church is a severe remedy. But as far as a personal application goes, it would seem we need to be extra careful about who we fellowship with. I don’t recommend legalism about this sort of thing, but Proverbs 4:23 says “above all else, guard your heart.” There may be, indeed there probably are the modern equivalent of “Judiazers” in the midst of each church congregation, those who would focus on works, or culture, or ethnicity, or custom, or even personal taste – anything external – as a means of being acceptable to God, to the rest of the congregation, and even just being acceptable to them. They may be people of influence, or they may just be the person who happens to sit next to you during the worship service, or they might even be your very best friend. Its easy to get sucked in. Remember Paul’s example of Peter succumbing to this heresy back in Galatians 2:11. This is an easy deception to buy into. We need to guard ourselves and our hearts and minds and focus on Jesus, and the concept of Holy Spirit inspired relationships!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 4, Verse 29

Galatians 4:29 At that time the son born in the ordinary way persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It is the same now.

At first glance, this verse seems to state the obvious. Genesis 21:9 tells us that Ishmael was “mocking” Isaac. The antagonism between the sons who were descendants of Hagar and the sons who were descendants of Sarah carry on into future generations. Psalm 83:5-6 speaks of the nation of Edom, the descendants of Ishmael, antagonizing the nation of Israel. Ironically, even in the modern world, the present day “Edomites,” the Palestinians, are still at odds with the ethnic-cultural descendants of Abraham.

But of course, Paul is being expressly “figurative.” (see Galatians 4:24). He has used the concept of literal slavery, and slavery to the law, to reverse the roles in which tradition placed Hagar and Sarah – it is the ethnic descendants of Abraham that were in bondage to the law – they were the slaves, like Hagar, and they clung to their slavery with a vengeance. The Galatians, who were Gentiles, were truly born again, truly the children of the promise, and were therefore the spiritual descendants of Abraham. The reality of the statement “it is the same now” is spiritual – and it is spiritual war! This goes all the way back to the dawn of time. I John 3:12 says that Cain murdered Abel from the sense that Cain was evil, and was jealous of Abel’s righteousness. Psalm 37:32 says “the wicked lie in wait for the righteous.” But this goes even deeper. The forces of darkness, masquerading as the forces of righteousness and light, are trying to destroy God’s people. And how subtle this distinction is – for even Ishmael can claim he is a descendant of Abraham! When the deception is wrapped in the cloak of theology and religion, it is all the easier to buy into and justify. And just like the “figurative” argument Paul makes here – where the obvious and traditional view of bloodline is reversed and even made irrelevant – so it is with us. The modern day “Judiazers” – anyone who would insist that compliance with their views or experience involving matters of race, culture or tradition define our relationship with God – argue that they agree with Paul’s conclusions in the book of Galatians – that the Jewish law cannot save us, only faith in Christ. But then they replace the Jewish law with reliance on conformity with their own culture or tradition. The implication is you can’t truly connect with God, can’t truly be part of God’s Kingdom, unless we do it their way, or become like them culturally, or worst of all – because we are part of a different ethnic group, we are rejected completely. Paul is absolutely right – truer words could not be spoken – “it is the same now.”

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 4, Verse 28

Galatians 4:28 Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise.

“Now you, brothers” Paul comes back to addressing the Galatians in a familiar tone, in intimacy. Paul has shifted the tone of his writing style back and forth from tenderness and caring (Galatians 1:11, 3:15, 4:12) to harsh rebuke and even sarcasm (Galatians 1:6, 3:1, 4:10). What strikes me here, however, is not so much a return to tenderness or intimacy here, but a statement of reality – the Galatians were truly “brothers,” they had a real relationship with Christ (see Galatians 3:2-5), and this verse defines the spiritual reality of the new birth. Paul uses the word “Now” – the Galatians are still right with God, despite the issues of unbelief and sin among them. This is the essence of “promise” – it has nothing to do with what we do. They are “brothers” – always!

“like Isaac, are children of the promise” Here, Paul pushes a concept that would have outraged his Jewish critics. First, the Judiazers insisted that a person needed to be circumcised to enter the covenant with Abraham and Isaac and all their descendants, and become their “spiritual descendants.” While there is some strong support in the Old Testament for at least an understanding of why Paul’s opponents insisted on this (see Genesis 17: 10-14), Paul argues that what he is arguing for transcends Jewish tradition and ethnicity. The Judiazers (and Jews generally at that time) expected that when the Messiah came, at the “end of time,” the law would be strengthened, not radically changed. Paul shows us that the coming of the Messiah inaugurated a new age in which the old rules no longer strictly apply (see Galatians 4:4, 4:6), or, better still, that the old rules were never meant to be the basis of salvation, but to show us the way, to point towards the fulfillment of the promise. The concept of the traditional Jewish belief system of Paul’s time is turned on its head – Paul is proving that the new covenant allows that these uncircumcised Gentiles are the spiritual children of Isaac, and the Judiazers – the ones who arguably are faithfully trying to fulfill the terms of the law – are the spiritual children of Ishmael. Ethnicity and culture cannot define the kingdom.

However, in a nutshell, while this verse seems like just a bridge in the argument, its bare essence is truth – the Galatians were brothers – spiritual descendants of Isaac, and children of the promise. For all who are truly born again, it is exactly the same.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 4, verse 27

Galatians 4:27 For it is written: "Be glad, O barren woman, who bears no children; break forth and cry aloud, you who have no labor pains; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband."

Paul quotes from Isaiah 54:1, a passage originally applicable to the exile, when the nation of Israel had been dispossessed by its Babylonian conquerors, the temple had been closed, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem were forced to live in a pagan land. Some biblical scholars/critics complain that Paul stretches too far here – this passage could not have been meant to apply to Abraham and Sarah, let alone the promise of the Messiah. Yet, even Isaiah himself seems to have contemplated such a connection (see Isaiah 51:2). And the application works on all three levels – with Abraham, Israel and God’s family today. In each instance, a promise is fulfilled – a promise regarding a hopeless, impossible to achieve goal – a goal that cannot be reached by human effort. Sarah, a woman who cannot physically have children, gives birth. Israel, a nation destroyed by foreign invaders – destruction allowed by God because of Israel’s own faithlessness – is restored. The Galatians, and therefore Christians today, were people lost in the bondage of sin are made right with God through Jesus. The first two events foreshadow the last. One of the bible commentaries I rely upon says that the Jews of Paul’s day would have easily connected the Isaiah 54:1 passage to the story of Abraham. This of course made Paul’s analogy to Sarah and Hagar all the clearer. Placed in the context of the Jewish reliance on ethnicity, which is the fruit of the heresy of the Judiazers, the use of this passage from Isaiah helps reinforce the concept that race and ethnicity do not matter. Paul will continue with this same analogy through verse 31, but I particularly like the implication of the last phrase here – the children of the barren woman will be more numerous. The promise to Abraham was that his children would be as many as stars, as many as the sand on the beach. It’s like a floodgate – a promise not just of you and me coming to God, but of millions – a promise of true revival, across all ethnic and cultural lines. Truly radical. Truly astounding.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 4, Verse 26

Galatians 4:26 But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother.

In the previous verse, Paul compares Hagar, as the “slave woman,” with Mt. Sinai and Jerusalem, both centers of Judaism and Jewish culture, sources of the Law, and therefore under the bondage of the Law. Here he makes reference to a new concept – “the Jerusalem that is above.” Rabbinical teaching of Paul’s day taught that in the coming Messianic age, a “new Jerusalem,” a heavenly archetype, would descend to the earth. This, of course, was not too far off from the reality of Christ’s Kingdom. Revelation 21:2 notes that there is a New Jerusalem, a heavenly City of God, where Christ eternally reigns, and of which all “true believers,” all authentic Christians – believers in “the promise,” not the literal descendants of Abraham or citizens of Israel – are citizens. Remember, Paul has announced that he is making this argument “figuratively.” (See Galatians 4:24). The problem is that the Jews took things too literally. They viewed the promise of the new Jerusalem as a physical presence, as something for the present and the here and now, and literally for the re-establishment of the Jewish nation in Israel at some future, but not too far future time. The Messiah would be a temporal King, just like David and Solomon had been. In this verse, Paul makes his own comparison about these concepts complete – and the connections to ethnicity (or lack thereof) could not be clearer. The reality is God’s plan is fulfilled in the promise of Jesus, not in obedience to the law. We are to rely on the Lord’s sacrifice, and not our own merit. Relying on the promise produces life and fulfillment – just as God promised Abraham a son, and produced Isaac. Relying on the law can produce a type of “promise production” that might look and feel similar, but the effort will always fall short – they are never enough to please God – just like Abraham’s relationship with Hagar, and the production of Ishmael. It also drives home that bloodline, ethnicity, and culture mean nothing. Fulfilling the Law means becoming a Jew. But Ishmael, as a literal “child of Abraham” (see the discussion back in Galatians 3: 6-9), was a failure -- and he certainly was not a Jew. So then are all attempts to please God by our own effort, in what we are, what we do, or how we behave. Any outward effort falls short. Any definition of who is a child of God that focuses on what we are, or what we do leads to slavery. We can only be a child of God by being children of the promise. Defining by race, culture, denomination, style, personal preference etc. is no different than trying to please God by following the minutia of the Law.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 4, Verse 25

Galatians 4:25 Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children.

“Arabia” in Paul’s time was considered a larger area than just the Arabian peninsula. It included the Sinai peninsula, and most of the Gentile territory bordering Israel (including the area in which Paul went into seclusion in Galatians 1:17, which would have been to the north of Israel, near modern day Syria). Initially, Paul’s explanation here seems confusing. He connects Hagar, who is the mother of the Arab nations, with Mt. Sinai, which is in Arabia, and then, surprisingly, with Jerusalem, the holy city of Judaism, and the center of the Jewish world. Mt. Sinai is where Moses came face to face with God. Jerusalem is the City of David, and as we see in the next verse, is connected to the concept of heaven. How can Mt. Sinai and Jerusalem be connected to Hagar, the mother of the Arab nations? Paul, of course, explains this himself.

“she is in slavery with her children” The whole emphasis in this section of the letter has been on slavery (at least, he is picking up on the concept first presented in Galatians 3:23 – 4: 11). We also need to connect back to Paul’s arguments about the law in Chapter 3 – especially verses 10-14. Relying on the law, rather than the promise, results in a curse – it leads to bondage rather than to freedom. Here, Mt. Sinai and Jerusalem are connected to the curse, to bondage, to slavery – Sinai is where the law originated, Jerusalem, as the center of Judaism, is also centered on the law and the concept of following the law in order to please God. Thus, there is a connection to the slave woman and her children, the product of trying to fulfill the promise by human effort. It all leads to slavery to the law, to bondage to sin. The statement “with her children” also implies that this is a generational curse – passed on from parent to child. Of course, this is what the concept of original sin is all about. But this also ties back to the underlying theme we’ve been discussing throughout our analysis of Galatians – ethnic prejudice and narrow mindedness is a root problem here, too. The ultimate result of insisting that the Gentiles follow the law is that the culture of the Jews becomes the central focus, rather than the person of Jesus. “Be like us, or you can’t be pleasing to God.” It sounds disturbingly close to Billy Crystal’s old Saturday Night Live character, Fernando – “It’s better to look good than to feel good.” But insisting on cultural conformity is really no different. This too is slavery.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 4, Verse 24

Galatians 4:24 These things may be taken figuratively, for the women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar.

“taken figuratively” Hagar and Sarah were real, historical people. But Paul is going to use these two woman, who were such a significant part of Abraham’s life (and therefore of Jewish cultural history), as a living allegory of the two covenants. Also, by using the word “covenant” here, Paul is revisiting the legal metaphors he started using back in Galatians 3:15. The issue of viewing these events from Abraham’s life as “figurative” would not be a new concept to the Jews of Paul’s time. Many of the great teaching rabbis of that era interpreted the life of Hagar as a kind of “imperfect training” – almost like the first draft of a term paper, or spring training for a baseball team. Sarah, however, was seen as the embodiment of perfect virtue. Paul chooses instead to emphasize the connection with slavery. The parallel becomes clear – Hagar was a slave herself, and with Abraham, she produced a child in the expected way, according to human biology, planning and effort. There is a direct parallel between the slave and the results produced, with those who seek to please God and fulfill the law’s righteousness by similar means – according to the flesh. In the case of both Hagar and the Judiazers, the ultimate result is the same. It cannot be done. We are slaves, and remain slaves. Hagar was from Egypt, where the Israelites had been in slavery. Mt. Sinai was just outside of Egypt’s borders. There is a thin line between freedom and slavery in God’s Kingdom.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Update on My Health Status

To all my Blogspot friends:

I wasn't sure what to call this note. But I wanted to bring my friends up to date on how I'm doing since my surgery. While my family and many of my church friends have been kept up to speed, I wanted to let many of my other friends, who have been so supportive, know how i am doing.

It has been three weeks today that I had my prostate removed.

First, the best news is my pathology came back clear. No cancer anyplace else but in my prostate. I will not require any further treatment -- no radiation, no chemotherapy, no nuthin! Praise God! I just need to be tested/examined on a regular basis, starting next month. The only negative at all in my pathology report was the cancerous growth in the organ had moved close to the inner wall surrounding it at one, tiny, even microscopic point. My doctor isn't overly concerned -- he says this just means I need to be diligent in keeping up with my checkups to guard against any possibility of recurrence.

This is all good news, but what this last point brought home to me is that the timing of my surgery was critical. Had I delayed this process in any way, I could have faced a much more serious prognosis. Had I not lost my job in February, and felt compelled to get a physical exam before my severance and health benefits ran out, I probably would have delayed seeing a doctor until at least September (I try to get a physical exam around my birthday, but had missed the last year or so). I tend to be very stubborn and arrogant about matters relating to my health, and I do NOT like to make a big deal over such things, and I hate going to see doctors for matters of my own health. I look back -- had I not lost my job, I might just be hearing about the results of my PSA test now, or had I decided to not have a physical in September, not known at all. It appears that my cancer was caught just in the nick of time. While the loss of my job was probably one of the toughest things I have ever had to go through -- put in perspective, it may have saved my life, or at least saved me from having a much more serious battle for the stability of my health. I am humbled by the mercy of God -- He knew when I needed to have surgery, and he made sure this arrogant, self centered guy would be in a position to listen to Him when that time came.

Everything else I currently am dealing with pales in comparison. I am gradually getting better. All of the adjustments I have to make now that the "mechanics of nature" have been re-built and re-routed inside me have gone pretty well. I am encouraged by my progress. I have a few difficulties with some of my sutured wounds, but those have simply been annoyances. I still tire easily, and suffer from aches, pains, and soreness, but nothing really serious. To think I had major surgery three weeks ago, and to be able to move and function at the level I'm at amazes me.

I've lost a fair amount of weight, too. But I don't recommend organ removal as a viable weight loss program. I hope that through better management of diet and exercise to lose even more weight and have a more healthy lifestyle. My doctor was adamant about this -- "lifestyle modification" he calls it. I've had my weight under control as long ago as seven or eight years ago, despite having my weight be a constant struggle since my teenage years. But since then, I have really let it go. My doctor was very frank with me after my surgery -- gently upbraiding me for not caring about my weight. He said that after working so hard to save my life from cancer, he doesn't want to see me dropping dead from heart disease, stroke, or some other weight related disease. Its good advice. And I hope by God's grace, I'll be able to follow through.

Thanks again to all my friends who have stood by me, prayed for me, and supported me and my family. I couldn't have made it without you. Covenant relationships in God's kingdom are what sustains us all in trying times. In all times.

Please also pray for my business prospects. Being under the weather for nearly a month has brought my law practice to a near standstill, and we really need to see an influx of business or a major breakthrough in some other area.

Thanks again to my children -- Simi, Tara, Cassi and Frank. I know how difficult this has been, and how difficult I have been. "Crabby Dad" has been no fun. Yet, they have shown me such grace and love. I am humbly grateful for my kids.

And my wife Susan -- what can I say about this warm ray of light, the hands and voice of God to me, the one person who has taught me the meaning of "lay your life down." That she would stand by me in all of this humbles me more than anything. I love you.



Galatians Journal: Chapter 4, Verses 21 through 23

Galatians 4:21 Tell me, you who want to be under the law, are you not aware of what the law says 22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman. 23 His son by the slave woman was born in the ordinary way; but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a promise.

Today we get three verses for the price of one – 4:21 through 23

“Tell me” Paul transitions back to his more familiar and formal letter writing style, but he’s still in an agitated emotional state. While it seems as if he may be picking a fight by demanding proof or some evidence or argument in support of the Judiazers’ position, this is really one of Paul’s trademark rhetorical questions. Indeed, like any good lawyer or debater, Paul already knows the answer to the question he poses here. “The Law” here specifically is a reference to the book of Genesis, and one of the books of the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible, which was written by Moses.

Verse 22: This will be Paul’s final Old Testament proof for his position. Once again, he focuses on Abraham, the “Father of Judaism,” and the first real focal point of God’s covenant promise.

“had two sons” The first son was Ishmael, born to the servant girl of Abraham’s wife Sarah, Hagar. The second was Isaac, the son of his wife, Sarah. He refers to Hagar throughout this section of the letter not by name, but as the “slave woman.” In the same way, he does not speak of Sarah by her name either, but as the “free woman.” Of course, Hagar had been a literal slave, but Paul is using this concept to extend the slavery – freedom argument he emphasized back in 3:23 – 4:11.

Verse 23: This is an odd construct for modern day Christians to understand. Paul says Ishmael was born in the “ordinary way,” and Isaac was born “as the result of a promise.” My initial reaction is that this should be stated the opposite – Isaac was born in the “ordinary way” because he was the son of Abraham’s actual wife. But what Paul means by “ordinary” here is “by human effort,” rather than relying on God’s power and intervention – or by simply believing in Him. Believing in God, and Faith in God is the key, as it was for Abraham back in Galatians 3:6. Genesis 11:30 is clear – Sarah had been “barren;” she was physically incapable of conceiving a child. Sarah’s sterility emphasized the fact that God’s people, the true “children of Abraham” would not be born by natural means. It is also clear that the means of producing Ishmael had been Sarah’s suggestion, to which Abraham apparently readily agreed (see Genesis 16: 1-4). The tragedy of this “plan” was that it immediately followed all the promises God had made to Abraham in Genesis 15. Paul emphasizes these promises in Galatians 3: 6-14 as the foundation of the Jewish faith that was fulfilled in Jesus. Abraham’s first reaction to God’s promises was to try and fulfill the covenant himself, by his own efforts. This parallels the Judiazers’ argument that everyone still needed to follow the Jewish laws and customs so that by our own efforts we will be acceptable to God. The fulfillment of the covenant to Abraham, however, was by a promise – and a miracle, which produced Isaac. The covenant is fulfilled in us through a promise and a miracle – the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 4, Verses 19 & 20

Galatians 4: 19 My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, 20 how I wish I could be with you now and change my tone, because I am perplexed about you!

Two verses for the price of one today!

“My dear children” Paul often expressed his affection for the converts he ministered to and with, see, e.g., Philippians 4:1. But Paul’s style and language was always tasteful and artful, and his grammar and usage was always mature, even complex. When I was in college, I had a roommate who was preparing for seminary and was studying Greek. He explained that Paul’s Greek was of the highest order, with a mature style indicative of an extremely intelligent, highly educated man. On the other hand, there was the Greek style of John the Apostle, which was simple, rough, and almost child like. (This is why beginning Greek students studying the Bible read from John’s letters, and gradually work up to the writings of Paul). Its sort of like comparing a PhD in English with Dr. Suess. Well, that's not fair -- John's writing isn't childish, just a lot plainer and simpler. More "blue collar," if you will. But here, Paul is reverting to that simpler style, a more emotional style. “My dear children” is never used anywhere else in Paul’s letters, yet, it’s the type of phrase (i.e. “my little children;” “my dear ones” etc.) that John uses over and over and over. Paul’s emotions here have reached the boiling over point. The man who had studied at the feet of the great rabbi Gamaliel, who has shown the Galatians a razor sharp wit and intellect and the most clever, inspired arguments based on the law and on Jewish, Greek, and Roman culture has here, briefly, been left speechless. Instead, he appeals to intimacy, relationship, and the depth of friendship. A lover might exclaim “my darling,” or a parent resort to a pet name or nickname for the intimacy of the home. Paul is doing the same thing. It seems out of character for him, and for this letter, but not when you consider the depth of emotion and commitment Paul really had (see, e.g. Acts 20: 36-38).

“for whom again I am in the pains of childbirth” In ancient Roman tradition, a father’s authority over his children was absolute. A father was an autocrat within his own home. In Jewish tradition, a great teacher was viewed as a spiritual “father.” In many ways, Paul has been appealing to his spiritual authority as a “father” over the Galatians, but here, he is especially appealing to the intimacy and affection of parenthood. The ancient cultures that blended together in the Galatian churches all applied this image of affection to a father, and here, Paul also takes up the image of a mother’s role. Labor pain has always been regarded as the severest pain a human can experience. It was common for mothers to die in childbirth in Paul’s day. Paul is painting an image of his own love and sacrifice that is extremely graphic. AND extremely sad, for the apostasy of the Galatians means Paul’s labor pains result in a “still birth.”

“until Christ is formed in you.” This was the goal of Paul’s ministry. It’s the reason he went through all this pain and anguish!

In verse 20, the exasperation reaches its peak. One way to paraphrase verse 20 is “I’m at a loss as to what to say.” The whole situation has pushed Paul over the edge emotionally – again, something we don’t see too often in his letters. Paul longs to be with them. Indeed, it seems it was easier for Paul to rebuke his flock from afar, in a letter, than to so stern face to face (see 2 Corinthians 10: 10-11) . Paul was really quite sensitive about this sort of thing. The old parental adage, “this will hurt me more than it hurts you” was very real to Paul. (See 2 Corinthians 2:4). He simply wanted the best for them, and wants to gently lead them back to the person of Jesus. Yet, his anguish is real – he is truly “perplexed about [them]!" – with an exclamation point!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 4, Verse 18

Galatians 4:18: It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good, and to be so always and not just when I am with you.

Here, Paul is taking the position of a frustrated parent.

“It is fine to be zealous” The tone here seems sarcastic, as if Paul is the typical parent of a teenager, and the Galatians are collectively his adolescent child. Indeed, that would appear to be an apt comparison for where the Galatians are at – these were not new believers, no “babes in Christ” – but an established, mature church. Yet, they were not mature believers. Paul had probably helped establish the churches of Galatia and lived with them for a time because of his illness (probably caused by being stoned and left for dead in Acts 14:19) sometime around 46-49 A.D. Most scholars date this letter as just 2 or 3 years later. The Galatians obviously had a great start as a church, but were struggling as spiritual adolescents. The “fine to be zealous” comment smacks of an attitude not unlike a typical 21st century American parental trite phrase, e.g. “ if your friends jumped off a bridge, would you too?”

“provided the purpose is good” Obviously, the zeal of the Judiazers was not good, both in their zeal for a works based theology, and a Christian community defined by race, culture and ethnicity.

“and to be so always, and not just when I am with you.” Paul’s final comment is multi-layered. One the one hand, it still smacks of a scolding. An immature child will misbehave and disobey when unsupervised. An immature believer will be swayed more easily when separated from their comfortable, established, and more mature relationships. (a most sad statistic is the large number of children raised in the faith who have a faith crisis with Christianity when they go away to college).

On the other hand, the context makes the last comment seem sad. Verses 11-15 explain the closeness and intimacy of Paul’s history with the Galatians. The fact that the Galatians could apparently just throw it all away so easily – not their faith alone, but the friendship and kinship they had with Paul – it must have broken his heart. I have personally experienced this kind of hurt – when a close friend leaves the fellowship of the body of Christ because of sin or a change of heart, This is a double devastation. You grieve your friend’s rejection of Christ. But you also grieve at a more basic, even childish level – you grieve because you miss him; you have lost a friend.