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.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Galatians Journal: Chapter 6, verses 4 & 5

Galatians 6:4 Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, 5 for each one should carry his own load.

Two verses today.

“Each one should test his own actions.” The word used for “test” here means to examine, to prove, or to scrutinize. It implies a very careful, meticulous overview. It is also a test to prove authenticity – to see whether what you have is the “genuine article.” This Greek word was used to describe the process of testing precious metals such as gold or silver to prove whether genuine or not. The same word is used in 1 Corinthians 11:26, and is translated as “examine,” where Paul exhorts us to carefully examine our lives to be sure we are worthy, or in the right “spirit,” to take the Lord’s Supper. This word implies a great personal responsibility – Paul has just spent a good portion of the letter warning us about how easy it is to fall back into the bondage of relying on the law, or on our own performance, and about caving in to our flesh. But the “test” here is not for a grade – this is not an exam like we have in school, or a test of skill or ability. Rather, its like the kind of experiments we used to run in junior high science class – a ph test – where we are simply determining whether what we have is indeed what we thing it is. Paul expounds on this in 1 Corinthians 3:11-15, where he explains how our works will be ultimately judged by God. If what we have accomplished in life is done from a selfish motivation (“wood, hay or straw”), it will not survive the fire of God’s judgment. If, on the other hand, our works were motivated by the Holy Spirit, from the heart of God, and done in selfless service to others, they will survive the fire and endure for eternity (“gold, silver, costly stones”). Remember on the old television game shows like “Jeopardy” or “The Newlywed Game,” one of the prizes each contestant would be awarded was the “home version” of the television show, so they could “play at home?” Here in Galatians 6:4, Paul is showing how we can do a little “home version” of the “big show” that will play out at the end of time, and figure out midstream whether what we’re doing is what God’s wants us to be doing, and whether what we’re doing will survive the fires of judgment.

“Then he can take pride in himself” I think the NIV misses the mark somewhat by translating this as “pride.” “Pride” has such negative connotations in the context of the Bible. The original word here deals with the concept of glorifying in your accomplishments. While it carries with it the connotation of boasting, its not necessarily negative. The old saying “its not boasting if you can do it” comes to mind. Even that carries with it the negative connotations of ego and selfish pride, but it begins to scratch the surface of what Paul is really getting at here. When the Chicago White Sox won the Word Series in 2005, the team celebrated in an extravagant way on the field and in the locker room. That’s the sort of thing I think Paul is driving at here – it’s taking personal satisfaction in doing a good job, and celebrating that feeling with exuberance. There is the implication of great joy here, rejoicing for the commendations of our Master, of doing what God wanted us to do. Even the World Series championship is an inexact comparison, although it helps us see the community/relationship component – this is not like running a race and winning as an individual – this is truly a “team effort.” But there are no trophies or prizes here. The glory is in the accomplishment itself, and in itself alone – in Christ alone!

“without comparing himself to somebody else” The New American Standard translation renders this section of the verse as “having a reason for boasting in himself alone.” There is no need to compare with others. Ultimately, the “test” here is to prove that our actions are motivated by something other than our own self-promotion. Therefore, we shouldn’t care about accolades, or accomplishment, or our standing within the church community. Our motivation should be to serve. This also ties in with Galatians 5:26, and Paul’s warning about conceit and “vain glory.” We need to keep a sober and objective view of ourselves and what we are trying to do to serve God and each other.

Verse 5: “for each one should carry his own load” The word here for “carry” is the same word used back in verse 2, but he emphasis in context is different. It implies a lighter touch. It implies we will all be equal to understanding this concept and calmly and submissively receive the “load” spoken of here. This is indeed the sober, objective recognition that all of us have a sin nature, all of us fall short, and that we all need each other.

The word for “load” here, however is different than in verse 2. It’s the diminutive form of the word – implying something small, or on a smaller scale. The word was commonly used by the ancient Greeks to describe the cargo of a ship – a “load,” yes, but one that is manageable and designed to be so. This is the exact same word used in Matthew 11:30, when Jesus says, :”My Yoke is easy, my burden is light.” There is an expectation Christ places on us with regards to how we live our lives, but it is not an oppressive burden of performance, as the law requires. In the context of this passage in Galatians, this is simply an encouragement to see ourselves as we are – imperfect, carrying our own faults and personality issues, and dealing with them properly and responsibly. The underlying emphasis is on getting along with and serving others. Again, the primary foundational principle of the Kingdom is being in a RELATIONSHIP.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Galatians Journal: Chapter 6, verse 3

Galatians 6:3 If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.

The literal meaning of the original Greek in this verse is pretty close to what we actually get in the English translation here in the NIV – except perhaps the word “anyone” might be better translated as “whoever,” but the implication of these words in the context of the rest of the Chapter give us a deeper and more specific sense of what Paul is really saying. This is more than just a proverb. If a person thinks they are “something,” well, that implies a person who is much too self important. Paul has just discussed conceit and “vain glory” in verse 26 of Chapter 5. The “something” here certainly fits in with that discussion and description. He or she obviously thinks a whole lot more of themselves than they should, and hold themselves above others. They are just too important to condescend to the level of those “caught in sin” in Galatians 6:1, to have to get their hands dirty or sully their own precious reputations by stepping down and helping to shoulder the burdens of another Christian as commanded in the precious verse. “Nothing” here implies someone who is a nobody except in his own estimation, in hi sown mind. “Deceives” here implies a deep fog – a delusion, but also an implication that the person is cheating themselves.

I picture the person who thinks they are “something” here as being a step or two beyond the “conceited” person of Galatians 5:26. This is someone who is otherwise marked by Christian maturity – an active member of the church, perhaps even in a position of responsibility or authority. They have already received the benefit of having more mature believers (those who are “spiritual” per Galatians 6:1) who have helped these self-anointed “Somethings” by carrying their burdens and deal with sins they have been caught in (per Galatians 6:1-2), But now, these “Somethings” think they are better than all that. The thought of returning the kindess paid to them by those who helped bear their burdens is repugnant – for whatever reason: fear, the busyness of life, obsession with wealth, job, or family, or a focus on being recognized etc. In thinking they are “too good” or “too important” to be intimate with those who immature is a delusion that deprives them of all the blessings that flow from such selfless service. If walking closely with the folks the world sees as “nothing” and helping them deal with sin and bondage in their lives fulfills the law of Christ (see the previous verse), to shy away from this concept is to be in opposition to the law of Christ. As I’ve repeated over and over again, RELATIONSHIP trumps everything. For it’s the promise of Galatians 3:16 that is the product of God’s relationship with man. While correct theology – knowing and believing the truth is absolutely essential, to place our own concerns and desires ahead of the relationship God has commanded us to be a part of is akin to denying the basic truth of the Gospel. How many of us have known people who believe in all the right things, but aren’t really following God? Or use the truth of the Gospel for their own selfish motives, or to put others down, and exalt themselves? Or simply refuse to answer the call in their life to get involved with the “someones” who are “caught in sin” back in 6:1 – the unlovable, the undesirable, those who need help but might not be the same color, ethnicity, denomination, or economic group? That is the great tragedy – that is the heresy Paul is fighting and great tragedy and heresy we fight in American churches today.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Galatians Journal: Chapter 6, verse 2

Galatians 6:2 Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ

“Carry each other’s burdens” The original Greek word for “carry” here implies hardship and difficulty. The Kind James Version translates it as “bear.” It speaks of a need for endurance – this load is heavy. (as opposed to Galatians 6, verse 5, where the “load” is not so heavy).

“Burdens” literally means something heavy, a great weight, or something extremely troublesome. In context, it is referring to troublesome, vexing moral faults. (see 6:1). In Romans 15:1-3, Paul makes a similar admonition, where he instructs “strong” Christians who need to “bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves.” It goes on to say that we all are to “please his neighbor for his good, to build him up” and points to the example of Christ, who bore in himself (voluntarily) man’s hostility towards God when he died on the cross.

Thus the concept of bearing another’s burden here means much more than empathy. We are to endure the faults of others, patiently, as a service to them, to help them grow in Christ. This is a sacrifice – not done to build ourselves up, but selflessly, following Christ’s example. This is an act of ultimate service.

It must also be done in a spirit of complete and abject humility. The phrase “carry each other’s burdens” would have evoked a particular image in the Roman world. Of course, servants or slaves were required to carry burdens for their masters, but there was also a common practice called “impressment.” Roman soldiers could require the locals in the provinces occupied by the Empire to carry something for them – on the spot, at a mere command. The person so instructed would have no choice but to obey. A scriptural example of this is found in Mark 15:21 where Simon of Cyrene is pressed into service to carry the cross for Jesus. This was a prevalent practice throughout the Roman world. This whole concept conjures up an image of subservience, demanding much more than a momentary act of kindness, more than the convenience of helping that person carry something for that moment. Indeed, it demands commitment. It demands humility. It demands a total laying down of our lives for the sake of others. The local citizens begrudgingly carried the load of the soldiers only as far as they had to. Paul is instructing us to voluntarily take the soldier’s load, and carry it as long as is needed – even for a lifetime.

“fulfill the law of Christ” The only other reference to a “law of Christ” I can find in the New Testament is in 1 Corinthians 9:21, where Paul explains he is not free from God’s Law, but is under Christ’s Law. In the context of the rest of the letter, I can’t believe Paul is referring to adhering to a set of rules Jesus laid down in the Gospels. Rather, he is speaking of the essence of Jesus’ message, portrayed in the words Christ spoke, and the examples He gave. He is speaking of the character of Christ, imparted to us supernaturally through the transformation and evolution of walking in the Holy Spirit as discussed in Chapter 5. The “law of Christ” is the fulfillment of the promise made to Abraham discussed in Chapter 3. It is a living, loving relationship with Jesus expressed supernaturally in our relationship with each other. To paraphrase a favorite phrase of my pastor, it’s “where the rubber meets the road.”

There is further and deeper implication when we look at the word translated as “fulfill.” It implies more than just “doing,” or even “completing,” but to perfectly observe. Paul argued back in Galatians 3:10 that it was impossible to fulfill the law of Moses no matter how hard we might try. Here, however, it IS possible to perfectly fulfill the “law of Christ” because what we do to so fulfill it is done as a response to the transformation that has taken place within us – it is a relationship based on being welcomed as a beloved child (see Galatians 3:25 – 4:7). Jesus has given us everything we need to fulfill Christ’s law. “Fulfill” also implies that we will complete what is lacking in our obedience. Indeed, anything we try to do in and of ourselves won’t be enough. We need the presence of Christ in our lives, the filling of the Holy Spirit, to accomplish this kind of selfless, humble service. And in so doing, we are bound inextricably close both to Jesus and the person whose burden we are carrying – in a close, intimate walk – a RELATIONSHIP! And that is the fundamental difference between the concept argued by the Judiazers of Paul’s day (or legalists today) and the truth of the Gospel. Its not about following rules, changing what we do, adopting the culture and practices of a particular group, or trying to overcome our own shortcomings. No, its all about an intimate relationship with the one, true living God. It is indeed all about RELATIONSHIP!.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Galatians Journal: Chapter 6, verse 1

Galatians 6:1 Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.

As we begin the final chapter of the book of Galatians, we find Paul continuing in his transition from the practical application of the theology and spiritual principles he had presented in the first 4 chapters of the letter to our personal lives, and personal relationship with God in the concepts of “Freedom in Christ” and “Walking in the Spirit” to taking those same concepts and applying them to our interpersonal relationships within the Body of Christ.

“Brothers” -- Despite the criticism Paul levels at the Galatians throughout the letter, he never doubts the authenticity of their faith or their basic relationship with Jesus. I find this incredibly encouraging. As often as I fall back into the old, worldly concepts of relying on “the rules” to feel right with God; as often as I use ethnicity and culture (especially the “culture” and practices of my own church compared to others) to define who I am, who “they” are, and who “we” are; as often as I indulge my sinful nature and take advantage of the freedom I have in Christ – my relationship with Jesus isn’t based on a report card as to how I’m doing in these areas. When I am trapped in these failures, it means I have sought fulfillment or pleasure in something other than my relationship with Jesus. I may have fallen, but I’m still a “brother.” Keeping a good relationship with both God and my “brothers” is vital.

“If someone is caught in a sin” The King James Version (a translation that is an attempt at a word for word translation of the original Greek, as opposed to the translation I prefer, the New International Version, which translates by looking at not just the words, but their use in context and phrases) renders the word for “caught” here as “overtaken.” While I am not a Greek scholar by any stretch of the imagination – I just use a computer based lexicon to try and deepen my understanding – the original language and its meaning in context sheds some interesting light on this concept. The original word rendered as “caught” here and as “overtaken” in the King James is difficult to translate into English. It implies the concept of forestalling, stopping, or hindering something in advance, like preventative medicine, or deploying the troops to quell a riot before it starts. It also carries the connotation of crime prevention – stopping a person before they can act. There is also an element of surprise here – the person being caught either doesn’t know he’s doing wrong, or doesn’t think he’ll be caught. There is also a sense of inevitability in the word – the “overtaken” aspect implies being overwhelmed, conquered, and beaten.

But “caught” here must also be viewed from the other side – the ones who see the sin in us. A fish can be “caught,” but the fisherman also “caught” the fish. The admonition here is on the latter. The warning/advice here is meant for those of us who see another Christian – a “brother” – in sin. Both sides are ultimately helped in this equation.

“You who are spiritual” By “spiritual,” Paul means mature. Despite all the issues Paul is trying to address in the Galatian community, he recognizes that many of them truly “get it,” have a solid relationship with Jesus, and are “deep” enough and mature enough to deal with these kinds of sensitive issues. Again, I find this incredibly encouraging.. Compare this to 1 Corinthians 3: 1-3, where Paul is addressing the entire Corinthian congregation, including the leaders, I presume. He castigates them for “not being ready” for a deeper walk with God. Because I see a deep connection between the churches of Galatia and my own church, and the other churches in the area within and around my home town in the sense of a timely, “rhema,” prophetic word from God, again – I find this all very, very encouraging.

“should restore him gently” The word for “restore” here has multiple meanings. It means to repair, and was used to describe the setting of broken bones, mending fishing nets, bringing factions together, or to complete a project to its finish. It also means to equip, to fit out, like a soldier preparing for battle by putting on his armor and gear. It means to put in order, arrange, or adjust, like tuning a car’s engine. In the ethical sense, it means to strengthen, perfect and help make a person what they ought to be.

Recall that gentleness is one of the fruits of the Spirit. (Galatians 5:23) Again, this all fits into the concept of RELATIONSHIP. I like the use of the word “restore” here to describe the setting of broken bones. You can’t do that by yourself. You need others. You need the Body of Christ. Yet, this process must be done “gently” or more damage could result. Holy Spirit inspired gentleness is the proper way to address faults. This is not usually the way its done in the church today. Legalism is the way sin is addressed. But legalism leads to confronting spiritual issues by fleshly means. The answer from the legalist – e.g. the Judiazers in Paul’s day – was to follow the rules more closely, and change outwardly so “they” fit in better with “us.” There is no place in their world for truly meeting the spiritual need of others. The fruit of the Spirit of gentleness implies humility and examining ourselves before we correct someone else. Here in our American culture, we have a lot of trouble with humility.

“But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.” Obviously, we must take care when confronting sin in others. We may tempted to join them in their sin – its so easy to take on that “yoke of bondage” again (see Galatians 5:1) or to indulge the sinful nature (see Galatians 5:16). But the concept of temptation here means much more than lust or envy, or the concept of having the sin of the person being confronted becoming like “forbidden fruit” to the one doing the confronting. The legalist is haughty and judgmental, and condemns those who are “caught in sin.” In Romans 2, there is a warning about judging others improperly, and a statement that those who pass judgment in such a manner “are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.” While time and the space constraints of this blog/notebook will not permit me to present a full analysis and explanation here, in short, those who make “bitter root” judgments, those who pass judgment on things that are not important in the grand scheme of God’s worldview, they have those judgments come back on themselves – condemning them, even cursing them, if you will – to fall into the very sinful behaviors they have judged so improperly. Self-righteousness will lead to a very bitter harvest in this situation. I believe it is self-righteousness that Paul is warning us to here with regards to being "tempted."

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Galatians Journal: Chapter 5, verse 26

Galatians 5:26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

Paul has spend the entirely of Chapter 5 encouraging and counseling the various Galatian churches about the practical application of the theology he presented in Chapters 1-4. He has discussed freedom in Christ, and walking/living by the Holy Spirit. Those are supernatural, life changing concepts. Yet, at every turn there is a warning – don’t let your freedom allow yourself to indulge in your sin nature. If you walk in the Spirit, the acts of the sinful nature should cease, the fruit of the spirit should manifest. There is an underlying, interwoven theme throughout of spiritual discipline, as seen, for example, in the previous verse.

Again, it must be emphasized that this is not the kind of discipline borne out of simply following rules or striving – Paul has spent the bulk of this chapter deriding the concept of going back to a relationship with God based on obedience to the Law, or to the rules, or on outward performance instead of an inner change. It is a discipline borne out of habit – and a habit that is founded on a RELATIONSHIP. I would compare it to a marriage. There are things, concepts, ideas, customs, traditions etc. that my wife and I have developed with each other over the years. It may range from the mundane – who makes coffee in the morning, or who regularly drives when we go out together in the car – to how we communicate, how we react to a crisis, how we make important decisions etc. We know each other so well, that all of this becomes second nature. That is how its got to become in our relationship with God.

Verse 25 makes that very connection. The underlying theme of Galatians is to set aside religion, tradition, the Law, ethnicity, politics etc. and exchange all of that for a RELATIONSHIP. A living relationship with God, through Jesus, which then transforms our relationship with each other. Paul emphasizes over and over in all of his writings in the New Testament that the barometer of our relationship with God is how we relate to each other. So in keeping with his warnings about indulging the sinful nature, here he warns about making sure that our relationship with each other stays “right.”

“Let us not become conceited” “Conceit" is commonly viewed as the concept of thinking more of yourself or your abilities than you should. But the original Greek word here goes deeper than just vanity or self-centeredness. The King James Version translates this as “desirous of vain glory.” It is the only place in the New Testament this word used. It literally means glory without reason, an eagerness for empty glory, or a conceit that simply doesn’t make sense. Like someone who is tone deaf thinking they could be a professional singer, or someone with no basic hand-eye coordination believing they could be a professional athlete. Sadly, if we look around our neighborhoods, or even more sadly, our churches, we see these two examples and others just like them to varying degrees. But even in instances where people are objectively gifted or talented, this concept, the “vain glory” can be just as bad or worse as an above average skill or natural talent is overrated in that person’s mind. The popularity of reality TV shows like “American Idol” or “America’s Got Talent” is based on this kind of “conceit.”

This kind of “vain glory” is particularly dangerous in the Body of Christ because this kind of person thinks they deserve recognition, responsibility and respect when the reality is the matter for which they want this recognition is only recognizable in their own mind. And the danger of this concept leading to “provoking and envying” in the concept of Freedom in Christ and walking in the Spirit is particularly great. Why? Because the grace and mercy of God welcomes everyone, and the kindness and acceptance we show in Christ towards each other can be interpreted as affirmation of our vainglorious conceit.

We have a tendency to indulge our sinful nature in our self centered pride. Paul is warning all of us to be objective. We need to see ourselves as Christ sees us, yes, as new creations, free from sin. But we cannot use that freedom, to exalt ourselves, or to judge others. Otherwise, we’re back to the negative side of Galatians 5:1, burdened by that yoke of slavery, or like 5:16, gratifying our “flesh,” our “sinful nature.” Because the Kingdom of God is a RELATIONSHIP above all else, keeping a right relationship with each other, and viewing that relationship through the lens of God’s reality is essential.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Galatians Journal: Chapter 5, verse 25

Galatians 5:25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.

Paul appears to be summing things up, and ties this discussion back to its beginning in Galatians 5:16. But the word translated as “live” is different here.

In Galatians 5:16, Paul says “live by the Spirit.” In the Greek, the work “live” is peripateo, which literally means to walk, to make one’s way, as to make progress. We discussed that concept back in verse 16, and found that “walking” in the Spirit was a decidedly Hebrew concept. The Jewish culture connected the concept of walking with living, as a relationship, like two people walking together, so that to walk in the Spirit meant to regulate, conduct, and to pass one’s life in a close relationship with God.

Here, however, Paul uses a different word for “live.” The Greek word for “live” in verse 25 is zao. It literally means “to live” as in breathe, implying the physical aspects of life, such as respiration, pulse, being awake, being conscious, to be quick, alive, or lively. There is sense of vibrant athleticism about this word. It means to be among the living, as opposed to being dead.

This word has deep, multiple layers of meanings. It is derived from the Greek word zoe, which is root word and most common term in Greek for “life.” This term implies a life that is full of animation and vitality – the absolute fullness of life. In its verb form here, it means to pass life in the manner of living and acting as a mortal, or as a character in a drama. But even more, it implies the ENJOYMENT of life -- to have true life, a life worth living. It implies an active life, a full life, a blessed life. In the context of Christianity, it is a life that is endless in the Kingdom of God. It is used as a metaphor to show life in full vigor, to be fresh, strong, and efficient. As an adjective, it means “powerful” and “efficacious.” In Psalm 19:5, the sun is described as a “champion,” rejoicing to run his course. The word here for “life” fits in that – if we “live” using this word, we live a life like a champion, rejoicing as we win the victories in our lives laid out before us by God. Indeed, when Jesus speaks of “living water’ in John 4, this is the exact same word He uses – meaning water that has a vital power in itself, exerting the same kind of power over our souls and lives.

Thus, Paul is connecting our life in the Spirit with vitality, power, and the newness of life in Christ. When we connect this “life” with the concept of “life” back in verse 16, we have a vital, living relationship with God through the Holy Spirit as we proceed through our life, day by day.

“let us keep in step with the Spirit.” But there is still a connection with “walking” right here in verse 25. But once again, the word is different. The King James Version translates the word here as “walk,” while the NIV renders it “keeping in step.” The Living Bible says “walking in line.” The original Greek is a verb that is used to describe soldiers marching in a line, implying discipline, order , timeliness, and regularity.

Interestingly, it is also a metaphor for achievement. It envisions marching forward, but to do so prosperously, to turn out well, or to succeed. Victory! Thus, as Paul sums up this discussion of how to live and walk by the Spirit, he is saying that because we live a vibrant, powerful, exciting and enjoyable life in and through the Holy Spirit, we need to take on the discipline inherent in that concept, as a soldier would, and “march on” to success and prosperity in the Lord. The “walk” certainly won’t necessarily be easy, but the fruit discussed in the previous verses is well worth the “march.”

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Galatians Journal: Chapter 5, verse 24

It's been quite a while since I posted an entry in my "Galatians Journal." Part of the reason I've held off is I was planning on presenting some of this material as part of a teaching message for my church. Well, I did that last night, so now I can resume sharing my notes on Galatians without "letting the cat out of the bag," so to speak.

Galatians 5:24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.

“Those who belong to Christ Jesus” Paul has spend a great deal of space discussing the issues of slavery in this letter in Galatians 4:8-11 and 4:21-31. But there, the emphasis was on slavery to sin, or slavery to the law. Here, he says we “belong” to Christ. In other passages elsewhere in his writings, Paul connects the concept of slavery to our relationship with Jesus. In Romans 6, he says that we have been set free from sin, and are “slaves to righteousness.” (v.18). In Romans 6:22, he makes a similar statement, that we are free from sin, and are now “slaves of God.” Ephesians 6:6 gives instruction to slaves – literal, real-life slaves who are also believers – to obey their earthly masters even when they aren’t watching, as if “slaves to Christ.” Paul is plainly stating that we belong to Jesus – implying that we are His property, but by NOT using a comparison to the concept of slavery here, the sense is this is something voluntary on our part. Not the issue of ownership of our selves -- that is established as a fact -- but that we have willingly assented to it. I suppose we are indeed slaves of Christ, but we have agreed to those terms. There is also an implication of benevolence on the part of our master!

“have crucified the sinful nature” Paul has used crucifixion as the model for the transformation of our nature in our relationship with Jesus in Galatians 2:20. There the emphasis was on the death of our entire being (our old nature) and that the life we lead now is no longer “us” – that is to say, our old nature – but its Jesus living in us. (I guess we really DO belong to Christ!). The current verse focuses on crucifying or putting to death the sinful nature – the flesh, that which is in us that is opposed to God. But is there really a practical difference? In Galatians 2:20, Paul says “I am crucified with Christ,” here he says the sinful nature is crucified, but, really, before we came to Christ, all we had was a sinful nature. That concept has to die, regardless, if we are to live in Christ. And the death here is total – complete. One of the arguments emphasized by the Judiazers over and over again that Paul was making a case against the concept in this letter to the Galatians (as well as for the Pagan philosophers of the day) was there had to be rules, or the Law, in order to prevent unbridled passion from taking control. Paul, however, has also emphasized over and over that obedience to rules in and of itself leads to failure, in that the one who strives to obey a set of rules will ultimately fall short somewhere. In addition, the “wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Paul’s remedy for this is complete death in Christ. The verb tense used here is both past and perfect, to signify that the event is completed. It is impossible to die to sin gradually. Paul encourages us – no, he commands us – to accept our completed righteousness by faith, and learn to live accordingly, which is the whole point of the previous discussion in Galatians 5:19-23. One more thing – by using the term “crucify,” Paul means to do more than just emphasize a oneness with Christ in His death. It implies that this death of our sinful nature is the utter destruction of its power over us. It also implies that this death is attended with intense pain. No matter how we conceive it, the end of our sinful nature is painful. But the freedom in Christ that comes from it is worth it.

“with its passions and desires.” The word translated as “passions” here is rendered “affections” in the King James Version. The original Greek work implies suffering, misfortune, calamity, evil, and affliction. This is hard for our modern sensibilities to understand. But its like the title to the movie “The Passion of the Christ.” It is the enduring of suffering and affliction. This almost seems like the wrong word use here. We usually connect passion with sensuality or sexuality, or the unbridled commitment to something -- i.e. "a passion for gourmet food" -- and that appears to fit into the concept of “sinful nature” and “flesh.” Yet, if we give ourselves wholly over to “passion,” as is the case if we are indulging our flesh, it only leads to pain and suffering. This goes hand and with the word “desires” (translated as “lusts” in the King James), which means a craving, a longing, or a deep desire for what is forbidden. In other words, LUST. These are the things that are crucified.

Yet, I am sure that all of us struggle with the “acts of the sinful nature” which Paul discusses earlier in Galatians 5 all the time. Paul goes into a deeper analysis of this struggle in Romans chapters 6 through 8, and even here, where Paul presents the “Freedom” we have in Christ (Galatians 5:1) and the concept of walking/living in the Spirit (Galatians 5:16) as a matter of fact, the underlying issue of a struggle is obvious – this is truly a death that compares with crucifixion! There will continue to be struggles as we walk in the newness of life in Christ. But these issues stem from our inability to grasp hold of this new life, of holding on to the Promise. We often make poor choices, or strive to achieve holiness by following the rules rather by living in the Spirit. Those kinds of choices are always before us, and dealing with it righteously, in Christ, in our freedom and concept of new creation, this is all part of the purpose for Paul writing this letter to the Galatians.