Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas a Day Late

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Trying to type/blog anything about Christmas before Christmas was just not in the cards for me. Between last minute "before holiday" stuff I had to finish in my business, preparing and presenting the "Christmas Sermon" at church last Wednesday, rehearsals/memorizing lines for our new year's eve production, and all the general busyness of getting ready with my family to celebrate the holiday on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, well -- no time to sit at the computer and think deep thoughts. And even when I now have a chance to type out these thoughts, I am unfortunately a victim of my own capriciousness. Please forgive me for the scattershot nature of these thoughts.

But on the morning of Christmas Eve, I saw a news article on potential scientific explanations for the Star of Bethlehem, and it got me thinking about some things. About how Jesus, as the Son of God, as the Lord of the Universe, as the "Word made flesh" (see my note from last year on the subject, which was the topic of my Christmas Sermon, at chose to reveal himself to the world, both at the time he was born and down through history.

Jesus' entry into our world was a bit of a paradox. He was God, created the world (see John 1), and was truly the "King of Kings and Lord of Lords." But he did not enter the world in a way in which the people of his time would have expected a King, let alone God, would have presented Himself to us. Instead of grandness, power, and glory, Jesus entered the world in humility, poverty, and obscurity. (See Philippians 2:5-8). People who were not paying attention to the subtle cues that were given missed it completely. And that meant most of the people of Jesus day.

Then again, sometimes the clues were not so subtle, but were meant for a select audience. For example, the Shepherds mentioned in Luke 2.

We don't know much about the shepherds, but from their reaction to what happened, I presume they were a lot like many of the rural, farm-community folks I know here in the U.S. Hard working, frugal, and devout. Working so hard, they had to stay up all night in order to take care of the sheep. Rough around the edges, perhaps, but basically faithful, patriotic citizens of Israel who were, deep down, hoping for the coming of the Messiah and the deliverance he would bring. Many of them may have been a little more than rough at the edges -- as a rough a life as being poor and dependent on the agricultural industry of the ancient world probably led to as many hard drinking, hard living types as we would find in any American community today. They were sinners, imperfect, and I bet they knew it. Yet, their cultural values were probably honorable -- they just lacked a real connection to God, a connection that went beyond culture, ethics, or family ties.

And then, as they were working one night, the sky is split by an other-worldly light, and an army of angels appears in clouds around them singing. They are told that the hope of the universe, the fulfillment of their hopes and dreams as a nation, as a culture, and as individuals is wrapped in a blanket, sleeping in an farm animal's feeding trough in a cow stall back in the center of a backwoods town not far away. Then they go check it out, find its true, and their lives are transformed with hope, and they spread the news to anyone that will hear.

The shepherds' first encounter with Jesus -- with the real, living, personal Jesus, the "Word made flesh" (see John 1:14) -- was a supernatural experience. I wonder how many people, both then and today. miss out on encountering the reality of who Jesus is and what he would mean in their lives because they can't deal with the supernatural, or aren't willing to move beyond an intellectual approach to their faith. I think there are many times God offers us supernatural "moments," opportunities when he opens up the sky for us, even in subtle ways, to reveal the reality of who He is, and we aren't willing to accept it, or pay attention to it.

I met Jesus for the first time in a manner quite similar to the shepherds. I was raised in the church, immersed in its culture, and trying my best to be devout. I was also, though, a little rough around the edges. I had done some things that I was rather ashamed of, and had helped cement a sense of separation from God. I was still trying though, thinking that if I worked at it hard enough, I'd have some sort of breakthrough and be right with God. But my "faith journey" at that time was very much on hold, very much void of positive results, sort of like the shepherds, just waiting there in the dark, not knowing if anything would happen. Then, just like the angels in the fields around Bethlehem, the Holy Spirit suddenly broke into my darkness with the light of the Gospel -- the truth that salvation comes through faith, and my sins were forgiven, and there was a God who wanted to walk with me and make me a new creation. I "ran to meet him" like the Shepherds, and found it all to be true, and like them, my life has never been the same. I found what I was looking for, but only after what I was looking for grabbed me in supernatural power and showed me the way.

I think there are a lot of folks, especially those raised in the church, who miss the supernatural cues,and wind up waiting out in the dark, in the fields, rationalizing away the last few dozen visits from the angels that point the way to the manger.

But its the second half of the Christmas story we all know that got me thinking about this. The other group of strangers who were drawn to seek out the Christ child. They too were drawn by a supernatural event. But it was much more subtle, and appeared to be an even that only they would have noticed.

I am, of course talking about the Magi, the "wise men," who are mentioned in the Gospel of Matthew's telling of the Nativity story.

Unlike the Shepherds, these guys were not "working class." Nor were they even on the radar when it came to the plan of redemption the Messiah of Israel would provide. The Magi were foreigners. Gentiles. Pagans. At heart, enemies of Israel. If they were not polytheists (some historians argue they were Zoroastrians), they believed in a God whose very purpose and concept was at odds with the God of Israel.

The Magi were likely Medes, from the area of the middle east that today is part of Iraq and Iran. They were a class of religious astrologers who brought star gazing, science, and the occult together in a highly specialized art form. These were the ones who were initially asked to interpret the dreams of the Kings of Babylon in the Book of Daniel. They followed the paths of the stars in order to predict the future and interpret the current spiritual condition of the world around them. This type of divination was forbidden by the Mosaic law, and would compare today with what are considered "dark arts," "black magic," or witchcraft. Yet, in the ancient world they were well respected as artisans of their craft, and were world famous for what they did. While some Christian traditions view them as "kings," they were more likely the servants of the kings of the Median and Persian empires of that day, which meant the wealth and power of those ancient kingdoms were probably at their beck and call.

The scriptural account relates that these "wise men" had observed a star in the East which had meant that the "King of the Jews" had been born. In Matthew 2:9, the star "went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was." Modern scholars dismiss this kind of stellar behavior as a myth. But there is some evidence from ancient history that something was afoot in the heavens at that time. Some rare comet activity was reported and an unusually bright assembly of stars was reported by ancient Chinese astronomers. But recently, a British Astronomer named Mark Thompson has reported a particular set of stellar anomalies occurred around the time we believe Jesus was born which could have caught the eyes of the star-gazing Magi.

Thompson says that between September in the year 3 B.C. and May in the year 2 B.C., the planet Jupiter and a star called Regulus passed very close to each other three times. These three “conjunctions” were caused “by an astronomical phenomenon called retrograde motion, in which a planet will appear to stop its normal eastward drift through the night and instead drift back toward the west for a period of several weeks,” according to a report in Britain’s Telegraph. “This happens because the outer planets in our solar system are orbiting the sun at a slower rate than the Earth and so our planet occasionally overtakes them.”

Thompson says that among astronomers, Jupiter is known as the king of planets, and Regulus is known as the king of stars. Their passing so close to each other three times would have been considered highly significant by astronomers of the day.

Thompson says that the retrograde motion would have meant that Jupiter was traveling west, which fits with the description in the Bible that the wise men came from the east.

Interestingly, this would probably mean that the "star of Bethlehem" as we know it today -- this incredibly bright star that would have drawn a lot of attention in the night sky -- was probably not observable to the naked eye, or at least not noticeable to anybody BUT somebody who focused all their attention on the heavens. This would have been like a coded message to the Magi.

And the greatest irony is that any pious Jew of that day would have condemned this kind of practice, not to mention any evangelical Christian of today. Astrology predicting that the Messiah would come? That's as off the charts as finding spiritual messages on a Ouija Board.

Yet, God allowed this, somehow. He sent a supernatural message to a group of pagan people, who were most likely not even remotely interested in searching for the Jewish Messiah, or in offering him homage or worship. But this subtle message, written in the night sky, was as overt a signal to the Magi as the angels were to the shepherds. And because the Magi were apparently morally and ethically committed to whatever religious system would allow for the stars to predict history, they were compelled to travel thousands of miles to find the Christ child, bring him gifts, and worship him as the King of Kings.

I am amazed when I think of this, because I know of people who were like the Magi who ended up being attracted to Jesus. People who came from different cultures and non-Christian faiths who experienced supernatural events that pointed them to consider the message of the gospel. People who had dedicated their lives to hedonism and selfishness, who considered Christianity and faith a load of poppycock, who saw something compelling, either in the Bible, or in something someone said, or an incredible series of circumstances that caused them to conclude that there must be something to the concept that Jesus was the Son of God. People who have had near-death experiences or been under the influence of drugs, and heard the call of God in their "visions," and when they regained consciousness or sobriety realized it really was the God of the Universe calling to them.

As I thought about this, it struck me. There were three audiences who got to worship the Christ before he grew into an adult. There was the captive audience of his family, his mother and the man who would act as his earthly father. The shepherds, working class and rough. And the Magi -- pagans, foreigners, outcasts among the Jews. Not a high class member of Israeli society among them. And, all of them had had a supernatural experience to draw them in to Jesus.

So I think we sometimes need to adjust our focus. The rough and tumble, the people of the street. Those to whom we can't relate or even those we would consider the enemies of the church or Christianity today -- God loves these people as much as he loves any of us. Jesus came to reach them. The Christmas stories in the gospels make this clear.

I must continue to expand my vision as a follower of Christ. I must be open to have people who I would never expect to be interested in Jesus to have such an interest. I must be open to the concept of those who I do not understand, or perhaps don't care for very much, to be called into the Kingdom. And most of all, we cannot brush off the supernatural call of God that makes a personal connection with each of us -- whether it takes shape through biblical prophecy, or seems to rear itself from unexpected sources. The story of the Magi make it clear that God will work to reach people who are open to Him in ways that defy our religious conventions. Jesus, his saving grace and power, and a living relationship with Him goes beyond our expectations.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Illinois Supreme Court determines underage drinkers can't drive under any circumstance

Yesterday, the Illinois Supreme Court issued an opinion involving an interpretation of Illinois' very strict law involving under age drinking, which basically provides that if someone under 21 is caught consuming alcohol, their drivers' licenses are automatically suspended. The Court, however, went the extra step and held that even if the drinking offense did not involve the driving of a car, the suspension still applies.

In this case, which consolidated several appeals from the lower courts, involved individuals charged with underage drinking who plead guilty to that offense. No vehicles were involved. The trial court placed each on court supervision for 90 days and then entered an order declaring unconstitutional as applied the statute requiring suspension of a driver’s license on receipt of court supervision for underage drinking, even where no vehicle is involved. It found a due process violation. The Secretary of State brought the direct appeal to the Supreme Court from the finding of statutory unconstitutionality.

In 1989, the Illinois Supreme Court had held unconstitutional a statutory provision calling for revocation of a driver’s license on conviction of certain sex offenses. There, as here, there was no use of a vehicle. In this decision, the supreme court distinguished its earlier ruling, noting that, here, the legislature may have believed that a young person who consumes alcohol illegally may take the additional step of driving after consuming alcohol, and it is reasonable to believe that a young person disobeying the law against underage consumption may also lack the judgment to decline to drive after drinking. Preventing young people from driving after consuming alcohol is unquestionably in the public interest.

The supreme court also held that the obligation imposed here on the Secretary of State to suspend a driver’s license is mandatory, rather than discretionary.

Thus, the circuit court’s holding of statutory unconstitutionality was reversed.

And, the warning is clear. If you are not yet 21 years of age, and are caught drinking in violation of the law, you will lose your drivers' license, regardless of the circumstances.

Serious food for thought for young people in Illinois who might choose to drink, even if they never step behind the wheel of a car.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Legalizing Marijuana -- What would Happen if we did?

What would happen if marijuana were legal, taxed and regulated just like cigarettes or liquor? I am not necessarily advocating that pot should be readily legal and available, but in today's trying economic times, it could become a reality. Here is a reprint (with some additional comments of my own) from Avvo's "Nakedlaw" website. Read on to find out.
  1. Drug arrests would purportedly drop and prison space would open for violent offenders. As it stands now, there is a drug arrest made every 18 seconds in America. Now, not all of these arrests are marijuana related, and in fact, marijuana arrests have declined. However, there were more than 800,000 pot-related arrests in 2008, and there are still a number of these arrests taking place as we speak. If marijuana were legalized, these drug-related arrests might drop off -- maybe immensely, freeing up jail space and allowing police to focus on violent crimes.
  2. Fewer kids would try marijuana. It may be counter-intuitive, but legalizing marijuana for adults could lead to less pot use by kids. Why? Studies have shown that even though pot is currently illegal, kids find it more easily than beer and cigarettes. (Although if you click on that link it goes to a site sponsored by a group advocating for the legalization of marijuana -- sort of a "slanted source" -- is it reliable?) Legalizing marijuana would put street dealers out of business who don’t care about the age of their customers.
  3. Street violence would drop. According to Jeffrey A. Miron, director of undergraduate studies at Harvard University’s economics department, street violence would drop. The problem with pot being illegal is that it forces people to resolve disputes themselves, often with violence. If pot were legal, buyers and sellers could resolve their business disputes just like everyone else — in court. Gang violence, which is due in part to the illegal marijuana trade, would decrease as well.
  4. State governments would have a lot more money. If pot were legal, state governments could heavily tax it just like alcohol and tobacco, creating a new stream of revenue. For example, estimates show California could rake in over $1 billion per year in pot taxes. What’s more, according to The Budgetary Effects of Marijuana Prohibition, taxpayers are spending about $14 billion each year on the war against marijuana. That’s money that would be saved if marijuana were legal.
  5. Accidents and emergency room visits may increase. Although marijuana doesn’t historically conjure up images of wife beating and recklessness like alcohol, it does impair motor skills and judgment, which could lead to more accidents. (Of course, we don't have a history of LEGAL marijuana use, so comparing its potential abuse to alcohol abuse has no logical connection). However, this assumes legalizing marijuana would lead to more people using it, which isn’t necessarily true. In Holland, where marijuana is legal for everyone over 18, the percentage of adults using it is less than half of that in America. Is this just a cultural difference between the Dutch and Americans? Perhaps, but even in Europe, the French, Italians, Spaniards and Britons all use more pot than the Dutch, even though it’s illegal in all those countries.
  6. The price of marijuana would drop and corporations would profit. In areas where medical marijuana is legal, the increased supply has already caused prices to plummet. If pot were legal for everyone, prices would drop even further as large companies grew, cultivated and distributed marijuana on an industrial scale. Such large companies and their shareholders would make billions in additional profit (a part of which goes back to the government in the form of taxes) and they would need to hire more workers. Of course, some small-scale growers could also thrive, much like some microbreweries thrive in the face of Bud Light.
  7. Mexican drug cartels would be crippled. Marijuana accounts for as much as half of Mexican drug cartel revenue, which means legalizing it would cripple their business. This would free up the border patrol, the forest service and local law enforcement to worry about deadly drugs like meth, cocaine and heroin, not to mention terrorism. A financial blow to Mexican drug cartels would also weaken their control over American street and prison gangs.

Until marijuana legalization takes place in the US, we’ll never really know how things will pan out. However, we could get a glimpse of it in November when Californians vote on legalizing marijuana for everyone over 21.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The New Health Care Law and Federalism

Its almost ironic. Over the past week, leading up to to Sunday, the House of Representatives was debating the details of the new Health Care Act, which passed (barely!) on Sunday. At the same time, I was working with my daughter Cassi as she was studying about the Constitution at school.

In particular, Cassi was participating in a program called "We the People," where students were placed on debate-style teams and assigned a general topic. They would then appear as a panel before judges, and quizzed on their ability to discuss the topic as it related to the Constitution.

Cassi's topic was about how specific constitutional passages have affected the institutions of American Government -- basically, she needed to discuss the concept how the federal government's power to govern has evolved, and how the interpretation of the Constitution has affected specific aspects of government. Not an easy task, to be sure.

In an effort to help Cassi understand these concepts, I tried to bring her back to basic concepts -- Constitutional Law 101, so to speak. The kind of things that the Founding Fathers debated when the Constitution was ratified. The kinds of things that still form the basis for understanding how Federal Government works.

The United States is a "Federal" system. That is, there are two systems of government co-existing over the people of the United States -- the national government, based in Washington, D.C., and the government of each individual state. The overriding, basic understanding of the power of the Federal government, as expressed by the Founding Fathers (e.g. in the Federalist Papers), and by the interpretations of the Constitution by the U.S. Supreme Court is one of LIMITED, ENUMERATED POWERS. The Federal power is LIMITED, in that the three branches of the Federal government are only allowed to assert those powers specifically granted to them in the Constitution. Federal Power is ENUMERATED, as the powers granted to the national government are specifically listed in the Constitution. For example, most of the powers granted to Congress are listed in Article I, Section 8, and include things like the power to tax, borrow money, regulate commerce, declare war, etc.

Contrast this with the Constitutional understanding of the power of the states' governments. Case law interpreting the Constitution defines State power as "inherent." That is to say, State government would have power and exist even if there was no Federal Constitution, and the State's power is general and not subject to limitation except for specific limitation by the Federal Constitution. This "inherent" authority includes a general "police power," which Courts have defined as the power to protect the health, safety, and general welfare of the citizens of that State. Thus, an action by a State government is presumed valid under federal law unless it violates some specific limitation imposed on States by the Constitution.

I tried to explain to Cassi that in theory, State power is much broader than Federal power. States have inherent authority to act in any rational way to protect the health, safety and general welfare of their citizens. In contrast, the Federal government action must fall within one of the enumerated powers of the Constitution. Federal Courts have traditionally held that this means that there is no general Federal "police power." The Federal government technically has no right to regulate the health, safety or general welfare of the people. Each act of Federal legislation or regulation must come from a specific, enumerated power listed in the Constitution (e.g. commerce power, taxing power, spending power etc.). In addition, the Bill of Rights (which was enacted as an effort to further limit Federal Power at the time the Constitution was ratified in 1789) specifically provides in the 10th Amendment that powers not specifically given to the federal government belong to the States.

Please note, however, that I said these concepts exist "in theory." This is because the enumerated powers for Congress in Article I, Section 8 includes the power to "make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the Untied States." This so-called "necessary and proper" clause has been used by Federal courts to define and shape certain specific "implied powers" of the federal government. Federal legislation and regulation only needs to be rationally related to a constitutionally specified objective, and it will be deemed valid as an extension of the "enumerated powers." For example, this doctrine was defined in the case of McCullough v. Maryland back in 1819, where the establishment of a national bank via federal legislation was upheld. While getting into the banking business is not one of the enumerated powers, the Court determined that chartering a national bank was a rational and valid extension of the power to regulate commerce and raise revenue. Historically, then, when the Courts have interpreted federal legislation, they have usually deferred to Congressional power by connecting legislative purpose to the enumerated powers via the "necessary and proper" clause.

The same is true of the 10th Amendment. Only in rare occasions have the Courts invalidated Federal legislation on the grounds that it is interfering with powers that belong specifically to the States. There was a time in the early 20th century when the Supreme Court might have struck down legislation that interfered with a State's internal police power (e.g. wage and hour laws were once viewed this way), this has been engulfed by "necessary and proper." In addition, the Court has also viewed the concept that procedural safeguards built into the federal system (things like equal representation in the Senate, and state control over the structures of federal elections) mean that the structure of the federal system is designed to protect State interests.

As I looked at some of the details of the new Health Care Act, it all fit into these concepts of federalism. . . and made me think that Congress and the President may have given us legislation that has overstepped the boundaries of federal authority.

Two things in the new law look to me like they are at least arguably unconstitutional.

One is the concept that everyone will be required to purchase health insurance. The other is making the State governments liable for many of the financial and insurance related liabilities built into the plan.

I can see a valid argument being made that requiring all citizens to purchase health insurance as falling outside of the enumerated powers. Some people will argue that this is no different than being forced to have auto insurance, or paying for Medicare or Medicaid. But it is. First off, required auto insurance only kicks in if you drive a car and have a drivers' license. Thus, its rationally connected to the use of an auto and driving on the roads. Plus, its a STATE requirement. State governments have a general police power -- the feds do not. If I am forced to buy health insurance, but never need to go see a doctor, well, it would be like requiring people who don't have drivers' licenses to buy auto insurance. Thus, there is arguably no rational relation to one of the enumerated powers.

The comparison to Medicare and Medicaid, or Social Security, even, does not work as well. These serve, in essence, as taxes. The Federal government has determined that these concepts and services are necessary (and they arguably fit into the enumerated powers, or at least have been determined to be so by the Courts), and that through the taxing power, they need to be funded. I may not like this as a citizen, but I can't object, because these regulations pass Constitutional muster as a valid extension of the taxing power. But requiring me to purchase insurance is different. Its not a tax. Its a contractual relationship. Also, there will come a time when I will reach an age when I automatically qualify for the benefits of the aforementioned programs funded by taxes. I may never come to use the insurance policy. Again, there is not the same rational relationship to a constitutional objective.

In addition, the provisions of the law that require certain state action and responsibility could run afoul of the 10th Amendment. In several recent cases, the Supreme Court has held that Congress cannot require States to enact a certain statute, or regulate in a specific manner. Congress does not have the power to "commandeer the legislative process of the States by directly compelling them to enact and enforce a federal regulatory program." (New York v. U.S., 505 U.S. 144 (1992).

It does seem ironic. Simple, basic principles of Constitutional law -- principles high school students are learning about as a foundation to understand how our government works. These simple principles could be used to unravel the new Health Care system. There are already talks of legal actions to thwart the enactment of the law. At least 30 states are planning on enacting their own legislation to oppose certain aspects of the law. We could see McCullough v. Maryland revisited in a modern setting, but with a different result.

While I sympathize with the concept of reforming our health care system, the over-broad concept the Obama administration has taken has given its opponents the tools to take it down, and possibly turn back the clock to a time when Federal power was much less extensive. The most comprehensive federal entitlement program in history, including social security, could be brought down or significantly limited -- because the Obama administration insisted this had to be the way to do it, a less extensive overhaul would not work.

This almost arrogant commitment to a liberal ideology that does not mesh with most of America could be a disaster. The question is -- will the voters respond? Will the courts act in a way like I have outlined here? Time will tell. But it is ironic -- the nature of our Federal system, which was designed to limit federal power, may actually work the way its was designed. And Cassi and her high school classmates may get a civics lesson that is up front and real.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Bill Pearce 1926-2010

Saturday night, while I was attending a church related social event, a friend asked me to comment on the passing of a "great trombone player." He thought I would know who he was talking about, but I was clueless, and he couldn't recall the name. Later, I learned that it was Bill Pearce. He died on February 22, after a long illness.

Bill Pearce was a huge inspiration to me when I was a teenager. You see, he was exactly what I wanted to be -- a jazz-style, lyrical trombone player with a sound like Tommy Dorsey and the technical fluidity of Bill Watrous, as well as a professional singer, and a well known radio announcer with his own nationally syndicated radio show. And he did all of this in the context of Christian ministry. He had his hands in and was at the top of his game in all of the arenas I aspired to be successful in as a teen.

I had learned about him first through his radio program -- "Nightsounds." I used to fall asleep listening to the radio as a teenager, and when I was in 8th grade and as a freshman or sophomore in high school, I was fascinated both the late night programming on WLNR radio from Lansing, Illinois. It was quite a variety -- the play by play of the Chicago Cougars, the new hockey team in the fledgling World Hockey Association, or Chuck Shaden's "Those were the days," rebroadcasts of old time radio programs. But after all that ended, around 11:30 or midnight, Bill Pearce's program came on. It was a time when I was really struggling with my spiritual identity, and the Nightsounds program really ministered to me with its biblical quotes and beautiful music.

It was much later that I learned of Mr. Pearce's singing and trombone prowess. I still have several of his recordings. It was my goal to become a professional trombonist and singer, and use my talents to glorify God. Later, in college, when I got the "radio bug," I also thought that being a radio professional would also be in my future. I wanted to do exactly what Bill Pearce was doing.

I got to meet Bill Pearce once. He was a featured clinician at a convention for Trombonists I attended with my Trombone professor, Dr. Tom Streeter, and our studio at Illinois Wesleyan, while I was in college. Probably 1978 or 1979. It was just Bill, presenting a workshop, playing his horn and singing to backup trax. It was an inspiring performance. He was genuinely warm and humble. I really didn't get much of a chance to talk to him -- it was more like "can I have your autograph." But he didn't brush any of us off.

Below is a great article, an interview he gave late in his career. There are a few links to audio files. Its a shame he wasn't more well known. Though I don't think fame meant a whole lot to Bill. He was just happy to play, sing, and minister on the radio.

Bill's theme song was his own arrangement of the artsong "Beau Soir" by Debussey. It was the opening theme for his radio show. I had the lead sheet for it. I could never play it as well as him. His haunting, lyrical interpretation defined how he played. And I can't hear that song, or even that style of music without thinking of Bill, and what he represented, and what he meant to me as a musician and in my walk with God. He was a shining example of a truly humble musician who used his gifts to further God's kingdom, without putting his own ego first.

I hope you enjoy the link to the interview. It really paints a great picture of Bill's life and contribution to our lives.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Galatians Journal: Chapter 6, verse 18 (closing out the Book of Galatians, and my Journal!)

Galatians 6:18 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen.

The last verse of the entire book/letter. We could pass over this quickly if we’re not careful – it just seems like a typical “doxology” style closing. Not bereft of meaning, but ostensibly not a lot of practical application. But if we dismissed this so easily, we’d be wrong – we'd miss Paul’s final sentence summary/emphasis on the major themes of the book.

Paul uses this type of blessing to sum up and close many of his letters (see Romans 16:20, Philippians 4:23, 2 Timothy 4:22, Philemon 1:25). But in the context of Galatians, this simple blessing serves to help sum up the entire message.

If we pick this simple sentence apart, there are 4 sections and concepts to emphasize. “Grace;” “Lord Jesus Christ;” “your spirit;” and “brothers.”

“Grace” The foundational concept for the book of Galatians. It is not what we do, or what we try to make ourselves into that brings us favor with God – it is the promise, it is God’s merit-less favor, His merciful kindness that unites us with Him, and nothing more.

“Lord Jesus Christ” It is Christ’s merciful kindness, His sacrifice that opens the gateway to our relationship with God. It is His Grace, and his Grace alone. Plus, he is “Lord.” He is the King of Creation, and the Universe. Each of us is part of his divine plan and purpose, and he lives us enough to have died for us.

“with your Spirit” The word here for Spirit is the same word used to describe the Holy Spirit – the third person of the trinity. This word can be used to describe the Spirit’s personality or character (as in “Holy” Spirit) or to emphasize His work and power (i.e. the “Spirit of Truth”), but the emphasis here shows that “Spirit” is not some depersonalized force – this is a Person, with a real and distinct identity, the co-equal of God the Father and God the Son. But because of the transformation of our lives in Christ – the “new creation” – He is now “our Spirit.” Paul has emphasized throughout the letter (Galatians 3:2-5; 5:16-26) that once we’ve been baptized in the Spirit, and filled by the Spirit, we “walk” with him in a supernaturally transformed life. Fulfilling the law was impossible (see Galatians 3:10-12), but now that Jesus has paid the price for the curse and the Spirit has filled and empowered us, we can walk in the fullness of the kingdom and please God. (see Galatians 5:16-18, 22-24).

“brothers” And here is the second major emphasis in the book of Galatians. The word for “brothers” here is a very powerful Greek term. “Adelphos,” a term we Americans recognize today from the name of the city of Philadelphia, the city of “brotherly love.” The ancient Greeks used this term to describe a sibling relationship, or in more general terms, to describe people of the same race or nationality. It might also be used to describe any fellow human being in the sense of a common bond of humanity (i.e. “the brotherhood of man”), it implies an extremely strong bond of affection. Paul, a Jew by birth (and an aristocratic one at that) was closely identifying himself with the ethnically Greek Galatians as if they were part of his family. Paul’s use of this term, I believe, is meant to show that ethnicity has no place in the Kingdom of God as far as acceptability to God or each other is concerned. The great heresy of the Galatian churches was as much ethnic prejudice as it was theological – the two concepts are inextricably wed to each other. The great sin of the American churches no different – we separate by ethnicity and culture as well. Many of us American Christians have correct theology to start – we believe in the promise, believe in salvation by grace, and recognize that obeying a set of rules will not make us right with God. But then we use a standard of cultural conformity to reject whole classes of other Christians, calling it “theology” when its really all about race, ethnic culture, or denominationalism. 1 John 2:9 say “Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in darkness.” Many of Christians here in America today have a correct view of theology, but walk in that same darkness. I pray for a gift of repentance for myself and my brethren, that we may turn from our arrogance and pride in our ethnicity and traditions and embrace the truth. We need to grasp the essence of Paul’s message in Galatians if we are to be effective witnesses of the Gospel in the world today.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Galatians Journal: Chapter 6, verse 17

Galatians 6:17 Finally, let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.

“Finally, let no one cause me trouble” Throughout this letter, Paul has been on the defensive. The heresy of the Judiazers threatened his whole ministry and purpose, as well as the purity and fundamental truth of the Gospel. The “trouble” I believe he is trying to head off is the concept of the Galatian Christians continuing to put him in a position where it is necessary to vindicate his apostolic authority (as he did in Galatians 1:11 – 2:10) and the divine truth of the message he brought to the Gentiles (as he did in Galatians 2:11 through 4:7). He is really concluding this letter by stating that the issues he’s discussed and the conclusions he’s reached are settled – there is no more reason to debate any of these concepts.

“for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.” The word for “mark” here is the Greek word “stigma.” It literally means to make a mark on the skin through sticking or pricking. It’s a word that describes the process of tattooing the skin, or branding with a hot iron, or even cutting the skin so as to leave a distinctive mark. In Paul’s day, slaves, criminals and prisoners of war were tattooed for identification. Certain pagan religious cults, such as those in Egypt and Syria, also used tattoos to show devotion to their Gods or to designate that a person was set apart to serve the Gods. Tattoos were used to show to which master the person being marked belonged. The mark was a testimony to whom the person belonged, or to whom the animal belonged (the Greeks and Romans generally associated tattoos with barbarians, and branding was reserved for animals). The law of Moses specifically prohibited tattoos, so Jewish tradition allowed for other outward signs of a slave or servant – an earring, for example.

But this Greek word “stigma” had broad application, and could be used to describe any mark or puncture wound. Our modern English use of the word “stigma” is a direct descendant of the Greek usage. The mark placed on a slave or criminal denoted shame. Today, in English, “stigma” means something that serves to be a mark of shame or infamy, a stain, or reproach, especially regarding a person’s reputation.

So what did Paul mean by “marks of Jesus” that he bore in his body? I believe he meant it both literally and figuratively. Paul did bear actual scars and wounds that evidenced the persecution he suffered for the sake of Christ. He had been stoned (Acts 14:19), beaten (Acts 16:22, 2 Corinthians 11:25) suffered a variety of illnesses, some of which may have been the product of the stoning and beatings (2 Corinthians 12:7, Galatians 4:13-14). These physical “scars” marked him as a servant of Christ (see Galatians 1:10 and 2 Corinthians 4:10) in the same way the slave’s tattoo marked his as a bond servant.

But there is, of course, a deeper, spiritual meaning. Christ’s wounds were affected through the concept of sticking or pricking or piercing. Literally, in the meaning of the ancient Greek word, “stigma.” Thus, the ancient Greeks would have used the very same word to describe the wounds that crucifixion produced – nails driven through the hands (or wrists) and feet, the spear thrust into Christ’s side. Indeed, the Latin derivation of this word – “stigmata” – has been used to describe not just the wounds of Christ , but a cultic practice among Roman Catholic ascetics whereby the wounds of Christ ostensibly and purportedly supernaturally appear on the hands and feet of a person devoted to Christ. Paul certainly isn’t referring to that – but crucifixion is a major theme in this book – being crucified with Christ, dying to self, and walking in the newness of life in Jesus just as Christ rose from the dead. Paul noted that he – and all believers – are “crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” (Galatians 2:20). Paul had not been literally crucified (no actual “stigmata” in his body), but was one with Christ’s death and resurrection in the Spirit. Therefore, he bore the “marks” of Jesus in the Spirit. (Galatians 6:14). For while the word here for “body” literally means the human body, it can also be translated simply as “me.” I do think Paul is referring to literal marks on his body from the wounds he received in persecution, but we miss so much if we don’t also consider this deeper meaning.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Galatians Journal: Chapter 6, verse 16

Galatians 6:16 Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule, even to the Israel of God.

There is an interesting parallelism at the opening and closing of the book of Galatians. In 1:3, Paul blesses his readers with “grace and peace,” here, the third verse from the end of the letter, he blesses them with “peace and mercy.” As we discussed in the comments for Chapter 1, verse 3, the pronouncement of blessing there was connected to the common custom in ancient Greece to wish “peace” as a greeting, sort of the way we modern Americans say “Hello.” A greeting of “peace” was also common in Hebrew culture (“Shalom!”). Paul’s introductory greeting and blessing seemed like an effort to sort of bridge the two cultural forces that came together in the Galatian churches – recognizing the validation of the roots of each culture (Greek and Hebrew) while looking forward to a unified, newly forged cultural identity that has more to due with Christ than ethnicity.

Here, in 6:16, Paul does a similar turn, but the emphasis is on the other side. That is, in Chapter 1, the greeting felt more slanted towards a “Greek” sensibility, tempered for the Jewish listener. Here, its completely the opposite, and for good reason –

“Peace and mercy” By connecting this phrase with the concept of Israel at the end of the verse, this becomes more than just a benediction – the phrase “peace be upon Israel” was a cultural icon to the Jews. It was extremely common for a Jewish person in that time to bless others with the phrase “peace be upon . . . “ Jewish tombs often bore the phrase “Peace be upon Israel.” These same words were also the common closing prayer in services in Jewish synagogues – the formal benediction known as the “Amidah,” with its origins in Psalm 125:5 and Psalm 128:6. Paul is pronouncing the benediction and blessing upon the Christians of Galatia in the same manner as a Jewish Rabbi.

“to all who follow this rule” The Greek word for “all” here is translated in the King James Version as “as many as.” The poetic image of the latter is a more fitting translation, in my opinion. While it implies “everybody,” the English word “all” also seems to imply something finite. The Greek word means “as great as,” “as far as.” “whoever,” etc. It implies a number that is always increasing. God’s economy has no limitations, his love and mercy have no boundaries. Salvation is a gift given freely – everyone – “as many as” – will have the opportunity to make this choice.

“follow this rule” the word here for “follow” literally means to “walk.” As discussed in the commentary for Galatians 5:16, where Paul speaks of “walking” in the Spirit, the concept of “walking” with God was a distinctly Jewish cultural consideration, expressed in the Hebrew concept of “Halakah.” But the “Halakah” implied strict discipline and rigid conformity to the rule – the Greek word for “walk” used here implies an orderly walk, like soldiers marching in a line. As emphasized in Chapter 5, the “walk” here, the “rule” of discipline is one of freedom. The very covenant is following a rule, but one that is manifested in the freedom of Christ, rather than slavish devotion to statutes. When viewed in the context of Paul’s entire message to the Galatians, this blessing proves to be the perfect bookend, and exact opposite of the curse pronounced against the disasters of following the Law in Galatians 1:8-9.

“even to the Israel of God.” Paul has been arguing both impliedly and directly throughout the letter that defining our Christianity by culture and ethnicity is wrong. Circumcision is more than just an issue of obeying the rules, but in the context of the argument used by the Judiazers for the Galatians to submit to it, its an issue of ethnic intimidation. The “rule” Paul is encouraging us to follow is embracing a relationship with Christ, not of ethnic traditions. And while the Messiah comes out of Israel, and is the fulfillment of the Law, Paul puts that in proper context here.

In 1 Corinthians 10:18, Paul uses the phrase “people of Israel.” Literally, it means “Israel according to the flesh.” When we put together all of Paul’s arguments in Galatians, we see a picture of the people of God that has nothing to do with “the flesh.” The many churches of Galatia were made up of believing Jews and Gentiles of various ethnic groups, the new “seed” of Abraham according to Galatians 3:15-20, and the heirs of the promise according to Galatians 3:29 (see also Romans 9:6 and Philippians 3:3). Some bible scholars insist that by using the phrase “Israel of God,” Paul is limiting this to Christian Jews. But that doesn’t fit in to the overall context of Paul’s message. “Israel of God” means all believers, the spiritual heirs of Abraham, Jew and Gentile together. But by making his final blessing distinctively Jewish, he is both giving the right emphasis and proper place of honor to the Jewish people and culture (for after all, Jesus himself was culturally Jewish, and the Jews were God’s chosen people), but he is also putting the Judiazers in their place – showing the true purpose for the Law and the promise. Its ironic – at least to those who insisted on obedience to the Law in order to be a “proper Christian” – the blessing here has a distinctively Jewish flair that depicts a distinctively Jewish promise fulfilled in a distinctively Jewish Messiah that was always meant for all people – Jew and non-Jew alike.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Galatians Journal: Chapter 6, verse 15

Galatians 6:15 Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation.

In a single sentence, Paul sums up his entire message as he closes his letter.

“Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything” As we’ve emphasized throughout this journey through the book of Galatians, this concept works on two levels, and we know Paul intends his message to work on both of these levels because of the manner in which he makes this statement. Most Bible scholars down through the years have emphasized Paul’s arguments in this book that deal with salvation, or how a person is made acceptable to God. The focus is on approaching God by following the Law – i.e. obeying the “rules” or “being good” I order to earn our way into the good graces of God – as opposed to salvation by grace through faith – believing in and accepting Jesus as Messiah and Savior, and trusting in His sacrifice on the cross as all we need to be right with God. Paul spends some time in this letter focusing on this, and framing his arguments in this way (see in particular Galatians 3). This is the essence of the Gospel. Understanding this truth is what brought me in to the freedom of Christianity, after years of struggle thinking I cold somehow please or appease God by “being good.” Of course, this truth is foundational to our faith and is vital to understand what Paul is saying in this book.

But it’s not enough. If this were all Paul wanted to emphasize, he could have closed the letter by saying “It’s faith in Jesus that counts, not following the Law” or some similar conclusion. He frames his conclusion around a single, specific point of the Law. This particular issue had been the point of controversy in the Galatian churches, to be sure, but a single point nonetheless. The point he emphasizes is a concept that defines the culture of the people involved. As discussed in the last verse, circumcision was the very thing that seemed to separate the Greek and Jewish cultures here, or at least was the focal point, the rallying point for the differences. Jewish and Greek cultures were about as different as two cultural philosophies could be. Plus, the Jews had a chip on their shoulder. Over the centuries, starting with the occupation of the Alexandrian empire, the Greek culture had infiltrated Jewish life and eroded many of the traditions Jews felt were vital, to the point where the offense was so great that the Jews rebelled against their Syrian overlords (heirs of Alexander’s disintegrating empire) many generations prior to the coming of Christ. (This led to the Maccabean Kingdom and the origin of Hanukkah). The Jews were as offended by the intrusion of Greek culture into their society as modern African Americans are about slavery. So in Paul’s time, the irony was the Jewish people had come back to the Greeks with “the answer” – their Messiah, their Deliverer, in the person of Jesus Christ, the fulfillment of the promise made to Abraham – now they were supposed to share this ultimate, amazing truth with the very people they hated, with the very people they viewed as having already sullied their own society. This was an intolerable concept to many Jews – an insult. What Paul is saying here is that the offenses of the past must be laid aside. Ancestry is irrelevant. So is any aspect of culture – race, mode of worship, language, food, music, dress, hair style, attitude – whatever is unique to a particular cultural group. Yet, these are the things that ostensibly divide Christians in America today. And just like the Judiazers of Paul’s day, modern American Christians will cloak their prejudices in theology or religion to make them palatable. In Galatia, the believers were told they needed to be circumcised in order to truly be a Christian. The underlying message was in order to be acceptable to God, one must be acceptable to the Jewish community. They were required to give up their Greek culture, and become like Jews. We do the same thing in American church culture. For example, the exuberance displayed in African American churches makes others who are used to a more staid, traditionally "European" church environment uncomfortable. Folks whose church experiences have always been to just follow the order of the service every Sunday find manifestations of God’s power in the form of the miraculous, charismatic gifts, or a prophetic utterance jarring. Or it works the other way around. The charismatic Christian will judge his more traditional brethren for sticking to a church program he has determined no longer works any more. It doesn’t matter what the setting is, or the particular issue. The modern day “Judiazer” will use scripture interpretations or simple pious platitudes to prove the other person’s culture is inferior, or worse, heretical. And worst yet is where the overall offenses of a particular cultural group are carried over and transferred to their church community. Our churches tend to be defined by our culture – there is really nothing wrong with that; we have to worship in a sense of familiarity and comfort – but when we amplify cultural differences through negative stereotypes and offenses, we get the same wrong and evil spirit that motivated the Judiazers.

For example, if I have an innate prejudice towards black people, their particular, unique cultural expressions will offend me, the same way the Greek culture offended the Jews in Paul’s day. I will then filter their church experiences and expressions through this narrow, hateful lens, and view those things as inferior or wrong, not just because they’re different, but because of my prejudice. This is a form of the Spirit of Anti-Christ, and the church in America needs to repent. Ultimately, what Paul is saying is that cultural differences mean nothing. The focal point needs to be Jesus. In fact, I believe the New International Version translation does us a bit of disservice here. The original Greek states that “In Jesus Christ, circumcision and uncircumcision mean nothing (the King James Version gets it right!). We must emphasize Jesus.

“What counts is new creation.” These five words should be transcribed and hung as a sign, everywhere. On t-shirts, bumper stickers, billboards, on the refrigerator – everywhere. This is the entire message of the Gospel in a nutshell. “New creation” means just that. The life of the future world of perfection in heaven, the glory of being in the presence of the Lord forever had begun in the life of believers on earth NOW! Whenever Paul speaks of the new creation, he uses the present tense. (See Galatians 5:5-6 and the commentary there). This is reality – the old is gone, and Jesus has us completely new! (See 2 Corinthians 5:17).

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Galatians Journal: Chapter 6, verse 14

Galatians 6:14 May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.

In the previous verse, Paul closed with a comment about the Judiazers boasting in their own achievements in convincing the Galatians, as Gentiles, to submit to the Jewish Law and Jewish cultural norms. To submit to the circumcision procedure – which amounted to surgery – would have certainly been a painful sacrifice. But even as a cultural concept, circumcision would have been a sacrifice for the Galatians as well. Greek and Roman society was horrified at the concept of circumcision, viewing it as the mutilation of the body. They would have seen it as sensible as removing your lower lip or nose, and because it involved the male reproductive organ, it was particularly distasteful – even shameful. But here, Paul takes the metaphor for cutting and wounding to what would be for both Jews and Greeks a new cultural low point. The Jews viewed circumcision as badge of honor, and ethnic identification. The Greeks viewed it as horribly barbaric and shameful. The Judiazers believed and argued that bearing the wounds of circumcision in their own bodies was pleasing to God, something to boast about. In this verse, Paul calls attention to a very different type of wound. Throughout the letter, he has emphasized the concept of the law as expressed in the act of circumcision versus the concept of faith as expressed in the promise to Abraham, fulfilled in Jesus. Here he connects the physical concept which expresses the fulfillment of the latter concept in our lives. The argument is transformed from law versus promise, or circumcision versus promise, to circumcision versus crucifixion. Paul advocates boasting in and relying upon a wounding that is much more severe than the minor surgical procedure of circumcision. And while Greek and Roman society viewed circumcision with disdain, as something shameful, the most shameful and painful form of death in the Roman world was crucifixion. The Judiazers were coercing the Gentile believers to undergo circumcision out of their own sense of fear of persecution and rejection by Jewish religious leaders – sort of like being afraid of bringing your boyfriend/girlfriend home to meet Mom and Dad because they are not from the same race or culture as your family. Paul doesn’t care about that – he will boast in the concept that is most shameful, because it is actually the greatest treasure.

The concept of “boasting” in God is found throughout Paul’s writings – e.g. 1 Corinthians 1:31 – as well as the concept of focusing on the cross. In 1 Corinthians 2:2, Paul states that “I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” The word translated as “never” here in Galatians 6:14 is about as powerful a negative as once can use in the original Greek – the King James Version translates it as “God forbid.” Coupled with the word “boast,” the implication is to not boast in anything or anyone except in the crucifixion of Jesus. The word “world” here means everything that exists that is against God. See James 4:4 and 1 John 2:15.

Earlier in the book, Paul has already discussed how we experience Christ’s crucifixion in our lives – in Galatians 2:19-20, and 5:24. It is a process in our lives that has nothing to do with our performance, or what we do, that puts to death the sin nature in us and produces a “new creation” and spiritual fruit that comes only from an intimate relationship with Jesus. As Paul said in Galatians 5:25, there is no law against that, or that even can STOP that. It is not only the only thing we should boast or brag about, it is all we can rely upon.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Galatians Journal: Chapter 6, verse 13

Galatians 6:13 Not even those who are circumcised obey the law, yet they want you to be circumcised that they may boast about your flesh.

“Not even those who are circumcised obey the law.” Paul’s accusation against the Judiazers here is two sided. Obviously, he is pointing out the inherent hypocrisy of their position. Many of the Jewish converts to Christianity were not necessarily observant of every detail of the law of Moses. Recall Paul’s confrontation with Peter back in Galatians 2:14. Peter was no longer observing the Jewish dietary restrictions, and perhaps never had, living as a fisherman. Paul knew this. Yet Peter was trying to force these restrictions regarding eating upon the Gentiles, who had never had to observe them before. The ironic thing about all the arguments the Judiazers advocated – whether insisting on observing the dietary rules or submitting to the rite of circumcision – is that these rules were as much part of Jewish culture as they were an objective moral code. Paul points out in Romans 2:14-15 that the Gentiles often lived lives that reflected the essence of the law’s moral code, even though they did not “know” the law. It is possible to follow the spirit of God’s rules and not be circumcised, even outside of the concept of the argument of the law versus faith, or law versus promise. The Jewish traditions of Paul’s day even recognized this. Jewish culture begrudgingly accepted the concept of a “moral gentile.” But the insistence on following rules that were really completely outward and completely cultural – that was a matter of convenience for the Judiazers. All of the then, raised in Judaism from birth, had all been circumcised as infants. To require submission to the rule of circumcision in order to be a Christian was no sacrifice to them – it was nothing! They hid their cultural biases behind the concept of “it’s the rule.” What they were really doing was hitting the Gentiles – whom they culturally despised – in a soft spot – LITERALLY! Yet they themselves were not necessarily following the other points of the law. Think about it – the Judiazers insisted that every male Gentile convert to Christianity have the foreskin of his penis surgically removed, while their acceptance of Christianity meant no pain or change in their lives, yet, hypocritically, they were otherwise “ala carte” followers of the law – like Peter back in Chapter 2, picking and choosing himself what they did or did not want to follow in the law of Moses. (Sounds a lot like most evangelical Christians as they hop from church to church). This was covert discrimination, wrapped in the cloak of theology. The same sort of thing happens in American churches all the time. A church with strong ethnic connections wil have the same sort of inclinations – the German Lutherans, the Dutch Reformed, the Irish/Polish/Italian/Hispa
nic Catholic parishes. If you have the right last name, the right heritage, if we know your Dad or Grandad – you’re in. Faith or morality is secondary, at least at first blush. This is the great heresy of the Galatians as much as the concept of a works based theology – become “one of us,” and you’re in.

The second angle of Paul’s accusation meets the Judiazers’ arguments even where they might be insisting on total obedience to the law, and such insistence was completely sincere and without hypocrisy. Even those who sincerely try to obey the law in every respect do not “obey” the law, because perfect obedience is impossible (see Galatians 3:10-14). If we fall short in one area we fail completely. So, while I believe that Paul is focusing on accusing his enemies of hypocrisy, even those who were not so inclined could not stand up to the argument.

“that they may boast about your flesh” This is where the accusation regarding hypocrisy sticks. The word translated as “flesh: here is the same word Paul used throughout Galatians Chapter 5 which the NIV translated as “sinful nature.” This is NOT a Holy Spirit inspired concept here – not in the least. Back in Galatians 5:7-12, Paul used the “cutting” metaphor in the circumcision debate to sarcastically suggest that the Judiazers might emasculate themselves in their vigor. That imagery also plays out here – its as if the effort of the Judiazers to achieve some measure of Jewish cultural conformity in the Gentile members of the church has them figuratively presenting the foreskins of the Galatians as trophies to the Temple authorities. Paul spent the bulk of Galatians 5 arguing that the “acts of the sinful nature” need to be avoided by living or walking in the Holy Spirit. Here, he simply shows that the entire Judiazer philosophy is an “act of the sinful nature.” (Galatians 5:19). The “glory” of the Judiazers, that which they seek to “boast” about, is to force the Galatian believers to behave in the manner described in Galatians 5:19-21. That is the ultimate product of ethnic and cultural division within the church.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Galatians Journal: Chapter 6, verse 12

Galatians 6:12 Those who want to make a good impression outwardly are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ.

Paul sums up the points he has made throughout the book as he begins to close the letter. He returns to the two main intertwining themes of the letter – both are essential to emphasize and equally important. First, the point for which this letter has usually been recognized throughout the ages – following the law and obeying rules doesn’t make us right with God, but only faith in Jesus Christ, is the theological issue. But also the second theme, that we cannot define ourselves by the outward things – race, ethnicity, culture, tradition, or other social practices – is a social issue. But both go hand in hand.

The word translated here as “compel” is rendered as “constrain” in the King James Version. It implies something done by force, or by threat. It certainly implies bondage. If you go back to Galatians 2:3, Paul noted, using the very same word, that at the time he submitted his ministry to the elders at Jerusalem (all of whom were culturally Jewish) the elders did not “compel” his Greek born companions to undergo circumcision. This is hypocrisy on the part of the Judiazers (see the next verse) and the bondage Paul had warned the Galatians to avoid back in Galatians 5:1.

And what was the Judiazer’s motivation for all of this? To avoid persecution because of the “cross of Christ?” What does he mean by that?

If you only consider the theological issue – in short, the Law versus the Promise (see Galatians 3:6-25), this seems confusing. The Judiazers recognized Jesus as the Messiah! They were nominally Christians. Any general persecution of Christians would have included them. Even by insisting that the Galatians become culturally Jewish, they would not have escaped being ostracized by the Roman authorities or the general Greek/Pagan society these churches existed in – the Jews were viewed with the same sort of jaundiced eye aimed at Christians. No, the real motivation for the Judiazers to “compel” or “constrain” their Gentile brothers in Christ was to avoid being persecuted by Jews. The Temple authorities were generally opposed to Christianity (see Acts 5 & 8, and Paul’s “ministry” prior to his conversion – Galatians 1:13). A way to appease them and stay in their good graces would be to prove that the Savior was a “true Jew,” and that his followers were also. The concept is really no different than the attempted blending of ethnic cultures in American communities. Those who take inordinate pride in their own culture, or who fear or dislike the people of the “new” or unfamiliar culture will seem to be “tolerant” but they wil insist on the new folks being “more like us.” Any difference is amplified. Resistance to the assimilation is ostracized.

That is the issue – the Judiazers wanted to prove to the “folks back home” that Christians (in particular Gentile Christians) were culturally acceptable. The circumcision argument can be presented as a theological point. But at the core of the matter, its an issue of RELATIONSHIP. “You can’t be one of us unless you are like us” Outwardly like us. Its no different than many of the denominational rifts in America today. The theological issue is usually immaterial – a minor quibble, a “disputable matter.” (see Romans 14:1). However, the cultural ramifications become amplified. “That’s not a real church, they don’t worship in the same way as us.” It is as insidious a heresy as the circumcision issue. Because when we define ourselves by a cultural standard, rather than by the promise – by the sacrifice of Christ – we are the same as the Judiazers in the book of Galatians. This is the great sin of the American church.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Galatians Journal: Chapter 6, verse 11

Galatians 6:11 See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand!

This is a very odd interjection, but it shows Paul’s intimate involvement with the Galatians and his passion for what he is teaching them.

"See” The implication here is to “take note,” or “mark carefully.” He really wants them to take notice of his closing remarks.

“what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand” Most historical commentators indicate that the common method for a man of Paul’s stature to produce a lengthy letter like this was to dictate it to a scribe – a secretary, if you will, trained in the art of writing and quick dictation. Writing with a quill pen on parchment-like paper, the scribe would have written in a small font in order to write quickly and keep up with the dictation. Paul apparently grabs the pen himself here, and writes the rest of the letter himself. He apparently wishes to drive the point home with a personal emphasis. There is the possibility that he has drafted the entire letter with his own hand, and now is shifting to a larger style for emphasis.

There is a scholarly debate involving why the “large letters.” Paul simply may be unaccustomed to writing long letters, using a scribe to take down his dictation (recall, Galatians is probably one of Paul's earliest letters), and may simply not used to writing in the smaller style. He may have taken pen in hand, and was struck by the largeness of his script compared to the scribe’s. Others speculate that Paul is making excuses for his own weakened hands, perhaps because of overuse in his tent making trade. There is also speculation that Paul had poor eyesight, and needed to write so large in order to read it. Back in Galatians 4:13-15, there is speculation that the “illness” Paul speaks of there was some sort of issue with his eyes, and some point to this verse as further proof.

All of this is interesting, but not really relevant. The important point here is Paul’s intimate involvement. He so wanted to reach the people of Galatia with this message, and he cared about their spiritual welfare so much, he himself took the pen from the scribe and finished the letter. The emphasis here is he is writing “to you” – a redundancy, to be sure – obviously he is writing to them. But the heartfelt importance of this can’t be avoided. Again, the emphasis is on RELATIONSHIP, not theology – though the truth about what Paul is emphasizing is vital, too. But the most important ingredient is still RELATIONSHIP.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Galatians Journal: Chapter 6, verse 10

Galatians 6:10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

Verse 10 serves to sum up what Paul has been discussing in the previous 9 or 10 verses. All of his advice and instruction in Chapter 6 so far has been in the context of community – of RELATIONSHIPS. We are to have a proper view of ourselves and a humble attitude regarding our own importance (5:26, 6:3-5). We are to selflessly relate to and serve the immature or developing believer, serving them and leading them to maturity and right relationship with God and others. (6:1-2). We are to serve and support those in authority or in the teaching ministry, and give generously. (6:6). The most important discussion on sowing and reaping (6:7-8) is placed in the context of “doing good.” (6:9), which , in turn, runs into and is placed in the context of this verse, doing “good to all people.” Christians cannot exist in isolation. There is a God ordained purpose in the relationship to the body of Christ – other Christians – and to the rest of society.

“Therefore, as we have the opportunity” At first blush, this seems like Paul is encouraging us to take advantage of the possibility – sort of like this is an option, an occasion, like a chance to invest money or open a business or something. But the word for “opportunity” here is more specific than that, and much more urgent. It literally means “due measure” and it implies a fixed, definite time, like an appointment. It is used to describe a time when things come to a crisis, or the decisive time that people have waited for, i.e. the end of the world, or the return of Christ. It is literally the “right time,” the opportune time, the seasonal time. It is also a limited time – the opportunity is not open, we must act now. In the context of the previous discussion on sowing and reaping, farming, and agriculture, there is a time to plant and a time to harvest. Both are limited windows of opportunity, and must be accomplished before that window closes. The bottom line – this is not an optional opportunity, but it is an extremely urgent one. We must act, and act now!

“let us do good to all people” The Greek word translated here as “all people” implies a cross section of society – some of all types. This is a divine form of “political correctness.” We must do good to every sub-set of society. We can’t play favorites. This is the exact opposite of the message of the Judiazers, who demanded favoritism for Jews and Jewish custom. This is the issue that divides us today – we need to lay down our expectations regarding culture and ethnicity, especially when it comes to denominational or church “culture” in reaching out to others.

“especially to those who belong to the family of God.” The “death” of our traditional expectations is particularly true here. Notice that Paul didn’t say “church,” he said “family.” We need to define the way we view our ties to each other believers by “relationship,” not by particular doctrine or church culture. The King James Version translates this as “household,” and its literally what the original Greek word means. 1 Timothy 5:8 warns that a person who doesn’t take care of his own relatives and immediate family is like an unbeliever. But don’t fall into the trap that Paul has spent the entire book railing against. Blood and culture, in the context of who we consider to be part of the “family” of God is the wrong identification method. When Paul says “especially the family of believers,” he means those who believe in the promise, regardless of culture. The command here is to get beyond skin color, language, worship style, musical tradition, even doctrines involving “disputable matters.” (see Romans 14:1). We must get beyond what traditionally defined us, and stop defining who belongs to the “family” by the outward indications, like the Judiazers did. This is the message of the Holy Spirit – we need to plant our seed there, and seize this urgent opportunity. To do otherwise is to miss what God is saying altogether.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Galatians Journal: Chapter 6, verse 9

Galatians 6:9 Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

This verse closes the discussion on sowing and reaping, emphasizing the “principle of eventuality” discussed previously in connection with Galatians 6: 7 and 8. The analogy to farming is a universal principle – once a seed is planted, it takes time to grow – sometimes a very, very long time. After the ominous warnings of the earlier verses about not being deceived and mocking God, Paul wants to leave us encouraged. The word for “weary” here is a powerful word – meaning utterly spiritless. Other translations render this word as “lose heart,” “faint,” or “grow weary.” It implies being worn down to the point of hopelessness – it could be utter despair or just defeated resignation -- surrendering as the defeated foe. Paul is encouraging the believers. Life is tough, and the circumstances of the world’s systems will wear us down. That “seed” we’ve sown in the Spirit, at the Spirit’s leading and command, may look like it might never bear fruit. In fact, in the very same ground we planted that seed, we might see a product of sowing to the “sinful nature, making it look like things are working in reverse. (See Matthew 13:24-30, the parable of the weeds).

The word translated as “doing good” is also a very powerful word. It implies the concept of creation and building – to produce something, to fashion, to form, to construct. It is used to describe an author or artist creating something. It implies taking raw materials and creating something useful. One meaning is to render a single product in the context of many or to make one of anything. Its like an artisan, making a hand crafted product. She may produce many of whatever she is making, but she’ll still produce them one at a time. The original language implies that this work is noble and worthy. Not necessarily highly skilled, but the best work a person can offer.

The King James Version translates this as “well doing,” and the word for “well” is an adjective describing the work that is also a very powerful word. In other places in the New Testament, the same word is translated as “good,” “better,” or “honest.” It literally means “the best.” Other similes that this word could be translated as include beautiful, handsome, excellent, eminent, choice, surpassing, precious, useful, suitable, commendable, or admirable. It’s a word the ancient Greeks used to praise physical beauty. It also means “genuine” – the real deal, approved by those who are in the know. It means “precious,” as in valuable, like gold or diamonds. The word was often used to show a connection to the names of men who were known because of their position in life, or their special competency or experience – in other words, endorsed by those who know what they’re doing.

There are two kinds of endorsements we’re familiar with in the modern media. One is the advertising endorsement, where a company will hire a celebrity to endorse its product, hoping to connect the popularity of the person to draw attention to what is being sold. There isn’t necessarily a connection between the expertise of the celebrity and the product – but the position of that person draws the attention. Tiger Woods advertises a particular brand of automobile – he has no particular expertise in cars, but his popularity brings attention to the auto maker. Or, you can have a non-commercial endorsement made by someone whose position in life draws attention to the issue. President Reagan liked to have a particular brand of jelly beans available in a jar on his desk, and when that fact was made public, the sales of that brand increased exponentially. The First Lady will wear a particular designer’s dress for the inaugural, and that designer will become the man of the hour. It’s the connection to someone great that makes the difference. While this word means that, if you go deeper, there is more. When a celebrity or someone in a high position connects to the product or work based not just on position, but expertise, and then the endorsement really means something. Tiger Woods can endorse a car, but if he endorses a particular make of golf club, the endorsement means more, because Tiger Woods is such a great golfer. The President of the United States can tell us what kind of candy he prefers, but if he endorses a person for a job well done or because of his competency as a civil servant, it means more because of the President’s preeminent position. This word here in this verse means more like the latter.

It also implies that which is honorable, a purity in heart and life, affecting others in an agreeable manner.

“at the proper time, we will reap a harvest, if we do not give up” Paul is simply and plainly stating the principle of eventuality. The people of a primarily agricultural society were more than familiar with the concept of “harvest time.” Farmers plant in the spring, and then harvest in the fall – it takes time. But there is an expectation that eventually the crops will grow, and we will reap a reward. Paul is assuring us and encouraging us to wait on the Lord. When we sow to the Spirit, when we labor and craft something “good,” it takes not just effort, but a lot of time before we will see results, let alone a final product. But it WILL happen – “God cannot be mocked.” The principle of sowing and reaping is a reality, not just when we sow to the sinful nature, but when our efforts contribute to the furthering of God’s Kingdom. Weariness as explained here obviously can lead to a sense of hopelessness, of giving up. But the harvest time will come – it’s a promise!!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Galatians Journal: Chapter 6, Verse 8

Galatians 6:8 The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.

Paul continues his discussion of the principle of sowing and reaping. In the previous verse, Paul emphasized that no one can escape this truth. We can fool ourselves into believing otherwise, but God will not allow otherwise. Here in verse 8, Paul is building on what he has established and defined regarding the dichotomy of “living” or “walking” “ by the Spirit” and the “acts of the sinful nature” back in chapter 5.

“The one who sows to please his sinful nature” None of the other English translations of the Bible I have available have the word “please” in this verse, but it certainly fits, and illuminates the concept. Ephesians 6:12 explains that our struggles in life are not with “flesh and blood,” but with the “principalities and powers” of Satan. We are in a spiritual war. But the sowing and reaping principle involves personal responsibility in that war, and how we will be equipped to fight it. This is not a passive exercise. We don’t simply scatter the seed. We actively choose to sow either to our flesh or to our spirit.

“from that nature” You can’t reap a crop from ground where you did not sow. We have to expect that if we “feed” the sinful nature, it will grow and produce. Again, as Paul warned in verse 7 – Don’t be deceived!

“will reap destruction” The verb for “will” here is translated in the King James Version as “shall.” There is an air of inevitability here. This will happen – and, indeed, it MUST happen. I am no Greek scholar, and I don’t have enough background to truly understand how Greek sentence structure really works (I just point and click with the computer based lexicon!), but the Greek verb for “reap” appears twice in this phrase. It literally reads “shall reap of the sinful nature reap destruction.” It’s like doubly emphasized! This is a law of God’s Kingdom and the natural world that cannot be escaped.

The word translated as “destruction” literally means decay, or rotting away. It also means corruption and ruin, as well as destruction. Paul has already warned us of the byproduct of sowing to the flesh – we will reap the “acts of the sinful nature” listed in Galatians 5:19-21. Recall these are more than the stereotypical “fleshy” sins of sexual immorality and other sins of excess, but things such as jealousy, anger, envy, ambition and such. All of these things are incredibly destructive. In Romans 8:13, in a similar passage, Paul states that living according to the sinful nature leads to death. This is not meant to apply to “spiritual death” – this is not about salvation, or needing to perform and “do good” in order to please God and be worthy of entering heaven. This is about the here and now, and how what we do today plants seeds we will invariably reap tomorrow. The truth is this – if we plant to please our flesh, if we act on the whims of our sinful nature, the results are guaranteed to be the aforementioned “acts of the sinful nature.” Remember in verse 7 is says “God cannot be mocked.” He will not allow any other result.

“the one who sows to please the Spirit” The word here for “Spirit” is a word that especially applies to the Holy Spirit, the third person of the triune God, co-equal and co-eternal with the Father and the Son. This is NOT some depersonalized force, or the “spirit” of a person (as opposed to the body and soul of a person).

“will reap eternal life” The sentence structure discussed above for the previous phrases apply here as well, on the “Spirit” side of the sowing equation. Indeed, most of the verses discussing sowing and reaping in the Old Testament emphasize the disaster that flows from sowing to the flesh, of feeding the sinful nature (e.g. Job 4:8, Proverbs 22:8). Occasionally, the opposite is presented (e.g. Hosea 10:12). It is important to grasp the positive side of the sowing/reaping principle. Sowing to the Spirit produces a harvest that is positive.

In Galatians 5:21, Paul speaks of the concept of inheriting the Kingdom of God. Here, he speaks of reaping “eternal life.” In Romans 8:13, he also speaks of how living by the Spirit produces “life.” The first concept – that of “inheriting the Kingdom” – appears to emphasize a place, a “realm” if you will, that is inherited much like the nation of Israel was promised the land. The second concept, or “reaping” eternal life, appears to emphasize the blessed life enjoyed in that land.

Again, I don’t think this applies to salvation at all, but on the life we lead as Christians. The reward for sowing to the Spirit and producing fruit (Galatians 5:22-23) is enjoyed in this life (because we are walking closely with God and in harmony with other Christians) and is rewarded in the next (see I Corinthians 3:10-15). We do not “please God” by obedience, in the concept of following rules in order to be right with God and earn our salvation – no! But once we’ve been transformed by God’s power and a relationship with Him when we are truly born again, if we respond to God’s favor in love and follow the principles of righteousness, we will find reward. Not because we deserve it, but because God loves us, and because of the principle of sowing and reaping. Remember – “God cannot be mocked!”

One last thought on the principle of sowing and reaping – This is not a concept like “Kismet” or fate. It is not inevitable, as in its not irreversible. If we sow to our sinful nature, it doesn’t mean we’re doomed. It just means things will be tougher. There is always forgiveness of sins, if we repent. And the principle of "eventuality" discussed in the last verse can be thwarted, at least in part. If a farmer realizes he’s sown the wrong type of seed, he can tear it up before the plants take deep root. If we repent soon enough, we seek forgiveness from God and the people we’ve wronged before the seed takes deep root and avoid some of the bitterness of the harvest later. (The same could be said for the opposite – a shift to sowing to our flesh will spoil our efforts to sow to the Spirit, even if just a little bit. It works both ways).

One more thing – we always reap. A farmer who wants to provide for himself and his family from season to season and year to year must not consume or sell all of his harvest, or he’ll have no seed to sow for the next season. An implied part of the principle of sowing and reaping is the need to reinvest part of the harvest of “eternal life” back into the soil – to selflessly give back to others from the personal blessings we’ve received from sowing to the Spirit. Otherwise, we have nothing to continue to sow with. (And recall in the parable of the sower, Jesus explained that the harvest was greater than what had been invested in the ground!).

And in the context of this passage, this especially applies to finances. In the only other passage where Paul uses the sow/reap concept (1 Corinthians 9:6), he warns that those who sow sparingly will reap sparingly, and those who sow generously will reap generously. He’s talking about giving financially there. In Galatians 6:6, Paul is talking about the financial support of the teaching ministry. Arguably, this whole discussion of sowing and reaping was being presented in the context of financial giving. It’s the one area of “sowing” that really shows a person’s heart and true motivations. It is the ultimate litmus test for where a person is at in his or her commitment to the Lord.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Galatians Journal: Chapter 6, verse 7

Galatians 6:7 Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.

Here is one of the most fundamental yet most misunderstood principles in the Kingdom of God, and of life generally. Verses 7 and 8 of Galatians 6 sum up the practical applications of everything Paul discussed back in chapter 5. Indeed, this is one of the most useful and practical life lessons in all of the scriptures.

“Do not be deceived” A powerful warning! Obviously, Paul wouldn’t have offered this statement if deception wasn’t a major issue in this area. Its also in the form of a command – we need to be extra careful to guard against being deceived, against allowing ourselves to be fooled, or even fooling ourselves in this area. The Greek verb for “deceive” is a word that was often used to describe heresy or leading people away from the right path. There is an intentional element to “deception” here. I have often viewed deception, or becoming deceived, as a passive concept. Its something that happens to you when you don’t realize, such as the concept Paul seems to present back in Galatians 3:1, when he calls the Galatians “foolish” and asks the rhetorical question, “who has bewitched you?” But here, the verb use indicates willfulness. We willingly allow ourselves to believe the lie that we will not reap what we sow. To be blunt, this is evil, and if we have allowed ourselves to fall into this trap, we must repent.

“God cannot be mocked.” The King James version translates “cannot be” as “is not.” I understand what the NIV translators wanted to convey here, and that truth is present in the original language—nothing we can do can truly serve to mock the one true God. But the original language as translated in the KJV puts the action squarely upon God. Its not just that God cannot be mocked – He won’t allow it! The word “mocked” here literally means to “turn up your nose,” or to sneer, as one would turn away from something that smelled bad, or a show of total disapproval. It is showing disdain, or having an apparent devotion to God that is mere pretense, or words not backed up by action, or the willful setting aside of God’s precepts. Its playing games with the grace and mercy of the one true God. If you put these first two phrases together in context what Paul is saying to all of us is this – You can’t fool God, and we are fools if we think we can. We inevitably delude ourselves if we think we can even try to pull one over on God. God will not allow that to happen. He won’t tolerate it. How will he expose these efforts on our part to “fool him?,” this delusion, this deception in our lives? Through the principle of sowing and reaping.

“a man reaps what he sows” The ancient world was more familiar with agricultural concepts than we are today, because the average person either grew at least a portion of his own food, or had to deal directly with those that did in order to survive. The Old Testament is filled with these kind of references, and Paul’s proverbial use of this imagery would have been quite familiar to those acquainted with Jewish traditions.

For example:

Job 4:8 “those who plow evil and those who sow trouble reap it.”

Proverbs 22:8 “He who sows wickedness reaps trouble”

Hosea 8:7 “They sow the wind and reap the whirlwind.”

Hosea 10:12 “Sow for yourselves righteousness, reap the fruit of unfailing love”

Thus, Paul was even stopping the Judiazers in their tracks, appealing to an important part of both the spiritual and ethnic tradition of the Jewish people. Of course, the agrarian nature of Greek society would have made this appropriate, too.

Another important aspect deeply connected to the warning about deception and mockery is the concept of the original word translated as “reaps.” The original Greek implies if a man sows a particular kind of seed, he reap that kind of seed, and ONLY that kind of seed. This is how God refuses to be mocked – He will not allow us to reap something we did not sow.

The spiritual principle follows the physical one. What is true for the farmer is true for the follower of Christ. Paul will explain this spiritual principle in the next verse. But if you plant corn, you won’t get potatoes. If you plant wheat, you won’t get apples. If you bury garbage on your land, there will be a stench.

And one of the principles that needs to be understood is the concept of eventuality. This is where the willful deception discussed earlier particularly comes in. All seed, of all types, looks the same to the casual observer after you’ve planted it in the field. Its underground – invisible to the naked eye. You can ask me what I’ve planted, and I can announce, “Why, I’ve planted corn of course!,” when I’ve actually planted thorns and thistles. You can’t see what I’ve planted. It will take time for the seed to grow. But whatever has been planted, it will eventually grow, especially if the field is tended and watered regularly by continued behavior. What we “sow” will eventually come to light. God guarantees it!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Galatians Journal: Chapter 6, verse 6

Galatians 6:6 Anyone who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with his instructor.

This verse seems odd at first blush. Paul is reaching the end of his letter to the Galatians. The remaining verses of Chapter 6 (vv 7-18) are like a summary of the concepts he’s been arguing/presenting in the whole letter. This seems almost out of place.

What exactly does he mean here? What is he driving at? Is Paul fishing for financial support? Are there issues with the Galatians failing to provide for Paul?

I have always viewed Paul as an example for the modern church as a leader, minister, even as an Apostle who worked to support himself rather than be a burden to the churches he served. In Acts 18, Paul worked as a tent-maker while ministering in Corinth, evangelizing the residents of the city on the weekends. He worked at what would be the equivalent of a “nine to five” job in today’s world and supported himself. In my own experience, I have come to see the concept of the full-time pastor, especially for local congregations, as a tradition that has come to be counter-productive. While there is plenty of scriptural evidence for viewing the ministry of teachers/pastors as a full time job (see, e.g., Acts 6), the modern American concept of the paid pastor often leads to too much dependence on that one person as the focal point for all the activity within a church, and a culture of performance rather than community. This is an over-generalization, to be sure, but when the local Pastor or Minister is paid by the congregation to do “just that,” there is an expectation that he will “meet their needs” – and there is more of a culture of entertainment, where the congregation will come each Sunday morning to watch the minister “perform,” rather then develop a church culture where they participate themselves, because, after all, that’s the minister’s “job.” There is a greater tendency to separate the clergy from the laity, and a dependence on the minster to do it all, and the congregation to serve as spectators. By his own example, Paul refused to succumb to that and gladly worked for a living, toiling at a regular, manual labor type job.

On the other hand (to be fair), there is evidence to show that tent making or some other form of basic work wasn’t Paul’s usual method of supporting himself, or at least not the exclusive method. 2 Corinthians 8:1-5 and Philippians 4:10-16 show that Paul was supported in his ministry by the sacrificial giving of the churches he had planted. This is not to say he didn’t also work to support himself as well, but it appears the congregations he served often helped him financially. So while my own personal experiences in my own church shows how doing without a paid Pastor works (and works extremely well, I might add) and helps to free the congregation to be more participatory and helps encourage the average person “in the pews” to come forth in the gifts God has given them, the concept of a full time paid Pastor (or at least a Pastor that is given a stipend or salary for his work in the church while also working to support himself) has its place. Like Paul, we need to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit to know when each of these models is appropriate. My reaction as I meditate on this particular passage is Christians in America – indeed all over the world – have fallen into a traditional view of church structure that is often counter-productive and stifling to the leading of the Holy Spirit. That doesn’t make the concept of a full time paid pastor wrong – but I think the weaknesses and abuses that have developed in this tradition need to be examined and even prayed through. Indeed, the theme of the book of Galatians demands that we consider this. The Judiazers of Paul’s day insisted on circumcision in order to be acceptable to God. It was “the way we do things.” To change that tradition meant a radical shift in the way people thought, in the way they “did church.” But in order to see God’s will accomplished, in order to realize the essence and truth of the Gospel, in order to “stay in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25), they had to be willing to give up that tradition. We need to look at our modern church traditions, our expectations, our practices, our prejudices, and be willing to go in a different direction if the Holy Spirit is telling us to do so.

There is another aspect to verse 6 that is brought to the fore by looking at Paul’s defense of himself in 2 Corinthians 11. There, in verse 7, Paul sarcastically argues that he might have been wrong for preaching the Gospel for free. In verse 8 he muses that he “robbed” the support of other churches in order to serve at Corinth. His audience would have understood this, because in ancient times, even more so than today, the expectation was that religious and spiritual “professionals” must be paid for their services, and if they did not charge for it, the implication was “you get what you pay for.” So if the spiritual “product” was free, it must not be worth much – it must not have any relevance. In addition, Greek tradition had the great philosophers and teachers in their culture bring in a sort of “communistic” ideal, insisting that people share all things in common. In pagan religions, people were expected to pay a fee just to walk into a temple or shrine. Here, Paul seems to be suggesting that the Galatians “pony up” in a similar way for all those who provide sound, authentic teaching (implying the inclusion of himself), as opposed to providing support for those opposed to such concepts (implying the Judiazers). Some scripture scholars suggest something different altogether, and believe this is connected with special collection for the Jerusalem believers spoken of in 1 Corinthians 16:1 (although the chronology makes this hard to reconcile).

In the end, the spirit of this verse fits in with the overall themes of unified community and interpersonal relationships found throughout the book of Galatians. A congregation or local church should certainly do all it can to support (financially or otherwise) those who lead and instruct them.