whytheology

For the Intersection of the Everyday and the Sacred

Archive for the month “March, 2012”

March 30 Reflection, Galatians 6:7-10

Galatians 6:7-10 KJV (NIV Link below)

7Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.

8For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.

9And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.

10As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.

NIV Link to Text

Planting and Working

Don’t kid yourself. You can’t grow grapevines from apple seeds. Why, then, would you assume that you could receive Grace through your acts of adherence to the law? Working on your own, in the flesh, only produces the results of the flesh. If you are trying to make yourself acceptable to God, you will always be left with what you already were: someone who means well, but cannot be perfect. A man who is drowning cannot save himself if he can’t swim, and while he is busy thrashing about no one else can save him either. It’s only when he relaxes and trusts an expert swimmer (or else becomes unconscious, effectively having the decision made for him) that his life can be saved. In the same way, it is only by relying utterly and completely upon God in the midst of our helplessness that the Spirit can allow us to flourish.

You reap what you sow. At the end of today’s section Paul returns to the call for community. Sowing to please the Spirit involves performing actions out of love for others, especially the church. This love motivated action has its roots in the grace of God and is cultivated by the Spirit of God. It is sowing by giving of yourself for the sake of someone else, with no thought of personal gain. It is the love of Christ made active and present in your life.

What do you think? What opportunities have you had this week to perform a loving act for someone else? Do you sometimes get weary in doing good? Paul tells us that we need to wait for the proper time to reap the harvest. Do you sometimes get impatient waiting? What does it mean to be a part of the family of believers?

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March 29 Reflection, Galatians 6:1-6

Galatians 6:1-6 KJV (NIV Link Below)

1Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.

2Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.

3For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself.

4But let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another.

5For every man shall bear his own burden.

6Let him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things.

Link to NIV text

It’s about Community

After what seemed like some very harsh statements about the Judaizers, Paul tempers his previous statements by admitting that, if someone is caught in sin, they should gently be restored. While this may seem at odds with his earlier statements, the unifying theme is the love and community of the church. Paul wants the Galatians to treat each other like a family, and Judaizers were threatening to divide that family. In contrast, someone who is not being intentionally divisive, but is nevertheless in sin, should be brought back to into right relationship with community gently and cautiously. Ultimately, it is about bearing each other’s burdens. Christ command was that we would love one another as he loved us. Christ loved us by offering to be yoked alongside us. Therefore we are to be yoked together, to bear one another’s burdens.

The opposite of that is to be proud or self-righteous. The warning in verse 1 is as much a warning against self-importance as it is against falling into the sin of a brother or sister in Christ. We should restore the one who has fallen into sin because we too could just as easily fall into the same sin. Self-righteous pride, where we think we are better than someone else, has no place in the Christian Church.

By the same token, just as no one should ever neglect their brothers and sisters, neither should anyone neglect their own responsibility. Having someone else to carry your burden is not a right, it is a gift. As such, while it should be offered, it cannot be demanded. If it were, it would no longer be love, but duty and then it would fall back under the law of obligation. Instead, we are to offer what we have humbly, strive to be better, but ultimately rely upon the love of God that first made us into a family by His grace. In so doing, we exhibit the community of God: the Church.

What do you think? Is there a way to take pride in your work without thinking of yourself as better than anyone else? How often do we exhibit love by gently bringing someone back to right relationship within the church? How often do we simply push them further away from the community? What are some practical ways you can help bear someone else’s burden right now?

March 28 Reflection, Galatians 5:19-26

Galatians 5:19-26 KJV (NIV Link below)

19Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness,

20Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies,

21Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,

23Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.

24And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.

25If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.

26Let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another.

Link to NIV text

Fruit versus Works

While it may be tempting to label this bit here a simple vice/virtue list, things that were common in the Greco-Roman world, Paul makes a subtle shift away from that. Rather than lack of effort versus concerted effort at virtuousness, which one would typically notice in these types of lists, Paul refers to the negative example as “works of the flesh” and the positive as “fruit of the Spirit.” This has been an integral point throughout the letter to the Galatians. Performing works in your own effort will inevitably lead to frustration. The only thing you are capable of doing entirely in your own effort is sin. You cannot live in the Kingdom of God by your effort alone.

In contrast, by abiding in Christ, who is the true vine, through the Holy Spirit we begin to produce fruit. These are not things that we earn or strive at entirely in our own power, but that come about naturally the more we are nourished by God’s spirit. In the same way we don’t say that an apple tree that produced good apples did so because it worked hard. We know that the good fruit it produced was a result of being cared for, having the right soil, getting enough water, and just being a good tree. These are outside of the tree’s control. It didn’t do a good job; it just was good tree. But we aren’t trees. We’re people. Here is the key difference: the tree has no option except to “abide” in its root system, the soil, etc; we have that option. Too many people decide not to abide. This is, it seems, the “natural” choice of our free will. As a result we have only produced rotten fruit. We need a dramatic rescue. Our very core needs to be transformed, and our roots need to be replaced. This is what the Christian walk is about. Jesus transforms our being, and we only give evidence of that transformation once we start abiding in the fresh soil, water, and sunshine that he, the gardener, has provided. Good fruit is the natural product of a good tree. As a Christian you are a good tree. Your old self has already been killed, your new self has a new root system. The question is whether or not you will abide now.

What do you think? Add your thoughts below. What do you think Paul means by keeping up with the Spirit? Do you feel like you always need to improve, like the Spirit is constantly pushing you to reach your own fulfillment? Why do you think Paul says we shouldn’t be conceited or envious of these fruit? Does that mean we can’t celebrate those who exhibit the fruit? Which fruit do you think you exhibit best? Which one do you think God is cultivating in you (working on in you) the most right now?

March 27 Reflection, Galatians 5:16-18

Galatians 5:16-18 KJV (NIV Link below)

16This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.

17For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.

18But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law.

Link to NIV text

An Inward Battle

Paul here describes the inward battle we all have, and the way to win it (sorta). He notes that there are two competing forces within every Christian, and they are focused on opposite ends. There is the flesh or ourselves and the Spirit of God. This is why Paul has been so insistent that we cannot add or take away from our salvation by the works of the flesh we do (or don’t do). The works of the law, those things we do under our own power, are contrary to the Spirit of God. And so within the Christian there is a battle between these two minds: the mind of God and the mind of our own flesh.

This is not the only time Paul has described an inner conflict between these two natures. In his letter to the Romans, where Paul also talks at length about the relationship of the Gospel to Law, he recounts his own struggle. His conclusion is that though he wants to good, he finds himself unable to do so under his own strength, but Christ sets us free from that bondage so that we may escape our own wretchedness. This is a common struggle, but Paul offers a sort of solution.

Paul’s solution to this dilemma? Walk (live) by the Spirit. Oh, right then, that’s all sorted. Well, this is clearly more easily said than done, and, as I’ve mentioned above, Paul is certainly aware of that fact. Nevertheless that is the only solution to this inner struggle. It is to stop trying to fight the battle in your own strength, which will inevitably lead you to lose the fight, and instead focus on your walk with God. The way to win the battle, then, is not to focus on the battle, but focus on Christ who has already won the battle for you. Be led by the Spirit and escape the law.

What do you think? Put your thoughts below. Do you experience this inner struggle? Do you, at times, feel like it is too difficult to fight? What do you think Paul means by calling our Christian life a “walk”? Do you sometimes feel “wretched” as Paul describes himself in Romans? Does it help to know that, for Christ, you are redeemed a saint? Is it somewhat odd to be at this interim where you are both sinner and saint?

March 26, Galatians 5:13-15

Galatians 5:13-15 KJV Text

13For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.

14For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

15But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another.

Link to NIV Text

Freedom and the Right Relation to the Law

Paul reiterates his point: you have been called for the sake of freedom/liberty. God called out your name, and in so doing proclaimed that your release from captivity. This freedom runs in contrast to the life under every obligation of the law. However, in response to his critics that such a theology would lead to immoral living, Paul cautions us: do not use it for the flesh. The entire point of the freedom you have gained in Christ is to serve one another out of love.

One way to look at this is to compare the service of a slave to the service of a freeman (or woman). Which is a greater display of love? Is it the slave who, though he may love the one he is serving, does so because that is his position in life and he is obligated to do so? Or is it the person who is free, under no obligation to serve, but who does so anyway, without complaint? The latter is the purpose of our freedom. Why is it that when we are saved we don’t immediately go to heaven? One reason is to serve one another. In short, you were saved in order to be the church. Love one another willingly, serve one another out of that love.

Paul then addresses a proper relationship with the law. If you want to fulfill the law, which the Judaizers had advocated, then you do better to fulfill this greater command. Not only did Jesus identify this as one of the two greatest commandments, but in the Talmud, the earliest Jewish commentary on the Torah (the first five books of the bible), Rabbi Hillel identifies this command as the summation of the law as does a later rabbinical commenter, Rabbi Akiva. Why follow the ritualism of the law and neglect this greater command? It is easier by far to perform a simple act like circumcision, but doing so misses the entire point of God’s covenant relationship with us; a point demonstrated most clearly by Jesus: to love one another. If you want to know why you are here, that is your answer: to be free and to be free so that you might love, which is seen most clearly in service to one another.

What do you think? Add your thoughts below. What can you do, right now where you are, to demonstrate love for someone else? Do you find it odd that Paul commands love, especially since a few verses later he describes it as a natural outflow of your relationship with God (fruit of the Spirit)? What do you make of Paul’s metaphor about eating each other? Have you ever seen or experienced the result of such a relationship? Perhaps you have worked in such a place (where people are “biting” each other to get ahead), did you think such an environment was/is conducive to being productive or successful? Have you experienced the opposite environment? Was it easier for everyone to be successful in that type of environment? If you don’t live/work in a positive (loving) environment, how might you make a small change to move it in that direct?

March 23 Reflection, Galatians 5:7-12

Gal 5:7-12 KJV (NIV Link Below)

 7Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth?

8This persuasion cometh not of him that calleth you.

9A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.

10I have confidence in you through the Lord, that ye will be none otherwise minded: but he that troubleth you shall bear his judgment, whosoever he be.

11And I, brethren, if I yet preach circumcision, why do I yet suffer persecution? then is the offence of the cross ceased.

12I would they were even cut off which trouble you.

Link to NIV text

Hang on Minute, Let’s Talk about This

Alright, so Paul’s last line here sounds a bit extreme. While the action of “emasculating” (NIV) or “cutting off” (KJV) the Judaizer agitators is probably a bit far, Paul is not actually suggesting that it would be the appropriate reaction; he is merely expressing his outrage at what they are doing. While it may seem like a little thing, to ask that converts to Chrisitanity perform this tiny detail, Paul understands it as a much bigger issue. The problem was not circumcision per se, Paul admits in other places that he had circumcised _____. Rather, the issue is with what the circumcision means.

The Gospel, as Paul preached, was offensive to most Jews. It’s why, on more than one occasion, he found himself heavily persecuted by them. The offense was twofold: 1) It took away all requirements of the law, thus removing the Jewish-Gentile distinction for all time. 2) The way in which this was done was through a cross. Jesus, without blemish, died upon a cross. By dieing in such a manner Jesus’ death was, according to Jewish law, a curse. What had not been understood, however, was that the curse that was upon Jesus’ rightfully belonged to us. Jesus died in our place, bearing the curse that should have been ours. His resurrection, then, removed that curse for all time because it died with him, but Jesus was raised, and lives now, without it. Therefore those who link their lives with Christ, by declaring him their lord, die with him, but moreso by dieing with him they are therefore raised with him as well. If we deny the changed relationship we have with the law, by allowing something like circumcision to remain a requirement for salvation, then we deny that in Christ the law was fulfilled and that we are made righteous apart from it. To deny this on even one point, like circumcision, opens the door to its outright denial. If circumcision is still required, then nothing has changed. If we try to earn God’s grace, we have missed the point of grace altogether.

Add your thoughts below and build each other up. What do you think of Paul’s racing metaphor in verse 1? Do you sometimes feel that someone or something has “cut in on you” making it difficult to keep a good steady pace in your spiritual “race”? Do you think Paul goes too far by suggesting it would be better if the “agitators” “cut off” their point of disagreement? How do you take Paul’s strong language here?

March 22 Reflection, Galatians 5:1-6

Galatians 5:1-6 KJV (NIV link below)

1Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.

2Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing.

3For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law.

4Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.

5For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith.

6For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love.

NIV Link to text

Freedom in Christ

Paul has been building, for four chapters now, to the statement in verse one. The point of Christ’s death and resurrection, the purpose of the salvation offered to you is freedom. If you have been made free by Christ, why would you become a slave to someone else?

As Paul elaborates, we might be tempted to say that this is an example of persons losing their salvation (in fact it’s where the phrase “fall from grace” came from). That is not at all what is going on here. Paul is instead pointing out the ridiculousness of the Judaizer position. Circumcision and other works of the law are not what save you. If you are trying to earn your salvation by circumcision then you have a long way to go. If you are going to rely upon your effort to achieve salvation, then you can’t pick up on this one little bit of the law, you are obliged to fulfill all of it. This is the problem: trying to be justified by the law is a rejection of the work of Christ. Christ fulfilled it, we don’t need to do the same because in his death we find ourselves so that in our life Christ is alive. The necessary righteousness has already been accomplished, we are only awaiting its fulfillment in us at Christ’s return.

That is the gospel: you are saved, made just, made righteous already. Your sainthood is secure. We have trouble acknowledging that because we live in this “already, not yet” time frame between when this was accomplished and when we see its fulfillment. What counts now, though, is not the works we do, but the faith in that fulfillment. This faith finds fullest expression in love for God and for neighbor. This is a key distinction. If you take nothing else from this entire study remember this: righteousness is the result of, not the prerequisite for, salvation by grace alone through faith in Christ alone.

Join the conversation and add your thoughts. What does freedom in Christ mean to you? The verb Paul uses for circumcision is passive, not active. What might it mean to think of sin or abandonment of the gospel as a passive action? What does it mean to adhere to the gospel of grace actively?

March 21 Reflection, Galatians 4:24-31

Galatians 4:24-31 KJV (NIV Link Below)

24Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar.

25For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children.

26But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all.

27For it is written, Rejoice, thou barren that bearest not; break forth and cry, thou that travailest not: for the desolate hath many more children than she which hath an husband.

28Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise.

29But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now.

30Nevertheless what saith the scripture? Cast out the bondwoman and her son: for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman.

31So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free.

Link to NIV text

A Child of Freedom

Paul states unequivocally that he is speaking of Isaac and Ishmael only as an analogous situation. What he is really concerned with are the two covenants: the one established at Sinai (by the giving of the law) and the one established by Jesus Christ that has fulfillment in the new Jerusalem from above. He references a passage from Isaiah. We need to look around that specific verse to understand the full implications of Paul’s reference.

This section of Isaiah was written directly to the Israel in exile. From chapter 40 onwards Isaiah’s tone shifts from condemnation of an impending exile to comfort in the midst of it because God would send a redeemer to bring them out the exile. The chapter directly prior to the one in our text today is a reference to the “suffering servant” that has clear implications about the sacrificial nature of Jesus’ death, something of which the early church was very much aware. This death ushers in the scene describe in Isaiah 54 (from which Paul is quoting). In it the childless woman is told to get ready because she will have more children than she knows what to do with. She is told to expand her tent, lengthen the chords of her tent and not hold back. Incidentally that verse (Isaiah 54:2) later served as the basis for William Carey’s “deathless sermon” that sparked the modern missions movement.* We are told this will be possible because God will be our husband (Christ weds the church) and a picture of the new Jerusalem is given. The specific verse quoted by Paul, it seems, is a cry that new children of God will come where it was not thought possible and they will be too numerous to count: the promise to Abraham that his seed will outnumber the stars in the sky would come true.

Jesus’ death removed the barrier of separation between God and man, and in so doing allowed the Gentiles to become children of the covenant: a new covenant built upon promise, not one of human effort; as such it is entirely based upon grace. Paul can’t help but continue to draw the parallel between the relationship of Isaac and Ishmael and his own with the Judaizers. Therefore, Paul argues that the Galatians take the same approach as in that situation: get rid of the child not of promise; stop trying to earn God’s salvation and receive it for the gift it is. In the new covenant no one is excluded because of what they have or haven’t done. Instead, as Isaiah 55 tells us, there is an invitation for all who are thirsty to come. That is all that is needed: only to come, and by doing so have your thirst quenched. If you have time, I encourage you to read Isaiah 54, and possibly the surrounding chapters.

Add your thoughts below. What do you think Paul means by saying that the new Jerusalem (the one from above) is our mother? How do you think salvation is analogous to quenching thirst?

*William Carey’s sermon is no longer available, but we do know its two primary points were 1) Expect great things from God and 2) Attempt great things for God. What expectations do you have for God now? Are you attempting anything great for him?

March 20 Reflection, Galatians 4:21-23

Galatians 4:21-23 KJV (NIV Link below)

21Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law?

22For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman.

23But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the freewoman was by promise.

Link to NIV text

Whose Child are you?

In today’s passage Paul uses the law to prove a point about the law. He makes an analogy between the two sons of Abraham: Ishmael, the son of Hagar, is representative of the Judaizer’s view of the law and Isaac, the son of Sarah, representative of the freedom and grace under Christ. While he will conclude this analogy in tomorrow’s passage, some interesting themes emerge. Abraham and Sarah, looking at their old age, did not think that a miraculous fulfillment of God’s promise could be possible. They decided to do what made logical sense to them, given the situation and culture they were in, and they used another person, Hagar, to achieve what they thought was God’s fulfillment of the promise. It was not until Isaac was born, the miracle child, that they understood they should have believed God’s promise on faith alone.

Paul continues to draw the parallels between the child of human effort being born to slavery and the child of faith being born free. For now, let’s just look at the contrast between human effort and faith. Granted, it was pretty miraculous that Abraham could have any children at all, but it was not beyond the realm of possibility. Sarah’s pregnancy, though, was. Thus, Abraham and Sarah decided to couple human effort together with God’s work. As Paul argued near the beginning of this Galatians series, grace plus anything is no longer grace. Abraham and Sarah did not understand that the covenant God had established was one of grace only. They were completely unworthy of receiving it. In the same way, we are completely unworthy of receiving this covenant under Christ. That is the miraculous nature of it. It is logical that we would become Jewish prior to receiving salvation, especially if the law is not dismissed outright. However, we are made children of the covenant through the fulfillment of God’s earlier covenant with Abraham by the miraculous person of Jesus. It is therefore by faith only. If human effort were required, it would no longer be the miraculous work of God.

What about you? Are you sometimes amazed at what God can do and has done? Have you ever tried to “help God along” by your own efforts to make God fit your mold? In C. S. Lewis’s The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, Aslan, the Lion who acts as a sort of Christ-figure*, notes that Edmund is saved because of the “deeper magic” of which the White Witch was unaware because Aslan had fulfilled the requirements of the “stone table” and become a willing, virtuous sacrifice in Edmund’s stead. In what ways might that be similar to the way that Jesus fulfilled the law to miraculously save not only the Jewish people, but also those outside the initial purview of the Mosaic covenant? Lewis also described Aslan as “dangerous”. In what ways is this different type of covenant dangerous? What does it mean to you to understand your identity as a “child of the promise”?

*Note on C. S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia, of which The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is part: Lewis wanted it to make it very clear that this is not a direct allegory or analogy of the gospel. Nevertheless, there are many analogous themes. Lewis described this comparison thusly: The Chronicles of Narnia describes how he thought God might go about bringing salvation to a world like the one of Narnia (which Lewis created). Thus Aslan is a Christ-figure in that sense, though any comparison should be very carefully done with that fact in mind.

March 19 Lenten Series, Galatians 4:17-20

Galatians 4:17-20 KJV (NIV link below)

17They zealously affect you, but not well; yea, they would exclude you, that ye might affect them.

18But it is good to be zealously affected always in a good thing, and not only when I am present with you.

19My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you,

20I desire to be present with you now, and to change my voice; for I stand in doubt of you.

NIV Link to text

A Sorrowful Mother

Paul may have seemed harsh with the Galatians, but his harshness came from a place of love, not selfishness. He contrasts himself with those who are leading the Galatian Church astray. Both the judaizers and Paul wanted zealousness, but while this group of “judaizers” wanted zealous Galatians to promote their sect, Paul seemed concerned with zealousness for Christ. His name is unimportant. He felt like a mother whose child has gone astray and he was having to go through labor for the child all over again. It’s easy to be led astray by the newest thing or pursue novelty for the sake of novelty. What is difficult is to remain committed to a single cause and, from it, show an undying love to a group of people who are utterly rejecting both you and this cause.

What do you think: Have you ever felt the urge to explore some new philosophy that you new ran counter to the Christian gospel? How about certain actions that you knew were contrary to the Spirit that lived within you? Have you ever felt the pain of someone you had been close to in the faith seeming to abandon it? It seems that in our contemporary culture we are urged to be “zealous” about many things. We should be zealous for certain foods, or brands, or fashion accessories. Often times, zealousness on peripheral things is praised and glorified. Particularly relevant this time of year might be basketball (or other sports) or secular politics. Do you sometimes find it hard to be zealous with a good purpose in mind? What would happen if your energy directed at zealousness in one of these other areas was redirected toward the cause of Christ?

**Side note: If Paul can be a mother, then we should really be ok with all Christians being “sons”.

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