Galatians 1.1-12, 13-24, 2
Do you remember the children’s song about the wise and foolish builders? The wise man built his house upon a rock. And, the rains came tumbling down. The rains came down and the floods came up. And, the house on the rock stood firm. The foolish man built his house upon the sand. And, the rains came tumbling down. The rains came down and the floods came up. And, the house on the sand went splat.
We begin our sermon series in the letter of Paul to the churches either in North or South Galatia (as the location is unclear) and is dated about 50 a.d. Paul is hopping mad because the Jewish Christians have questioned his apostolic call, his authority as a leader and dispenser of the Gospel, and his lack of physical well-being calling him “weak” (possibly from his eye sight issue). I can just imagine the Jewish Christian leaders offering this critic. You are not following our rules. You are not under our authority. You are not fit to serve because of your physical limitations. All are concepts rooted in the Old Testament laws.
True Gospel is relational. Paul offers a confrontational statement right out of the starting gate (Gal. 1.6-7) He certainly gets rowdy in this letter by skipping his usual niceties with thanksgiving and confronting the reader/hearer about believing a false gospel. He uses his personal conversion experience and describes his encounters with the original disciples as proof of their support of his approach to ministry. His argument is that personal faith trumps the law for it is by the life in the Spirit that one is transformed into the new creation to produce the acceptable fruit of righteousness. To be sure our failure to fulfill the law inhibits our relationship with God thus Jesus Christ fulfills the requirements of the law that we might have a meaningful relationship with God in the bonds of the Holy Spirit.
Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus?
True Gospel welcomes everyone in community. Paul particularly draws attention to the law abiding Jewish Christians who require the Gentile Christians to become Jewish in order to gain all the benefits of the Christian life. Those rules include circumcision, food laws, and religious calendar of events. Paul points to the issue of not eating with converted Gentile Christians who were not converted first to Judaism. These Gentile Christians were being punished by critical behavior. In essence the Jewish Christians refused to eat with the Gentile Christians thereby denying them participation in the Lord’s Supper. Not eating with Gentile Christians meant not sharing fellowship of a meal or the Lord’s Supper, the symbol of the sacrifice Christ made for us. Christ commanded all his followers to do this in remembrance of me. Not sharing in this meal with other Christians is a serious offense. We never create rules to keep people from coming to repentance and sharing in the forgiveness around the Lord’s Table.
Are you welcoming of every person or judgmental of their baptism? Are you critical about how communion is shared with others? Do you disagree with how others celebrate or don’t celebrate a holiday? Do you have an attitude toward others because of their ethnicity, country of origin, the shade of their skin, their social status (high or low), or their biological gender? How do you live in relationship with others who hold to different teachings – what you might call false, heresy, schism, blasphemy teaching?
True Gospel comes as a call from God not man. God brings us both the Old Testament and the New Testament. Alone neither works to bring us to full relationship with God but together they bring about a pathway to gracious freedom in the life giving Spirit of Christ. Paul learns this the hard way. We know that the Gospel is preached around the world in hopes that people will find a relationship with Jesus Christ. We call preaching kerygma because there’s something special that happens between the hearer and God. While kerygma means the initial gospel proclamation designed to introduce a person to Christ and to appeal for conversion, didache concerns the fuller and more extensive doctrinal and moral teaching and instruction in the Faith that a person receives once he has accepted the kerygma and has been baptized.
True Gospel means freedom, but not reckless abandonment. Legalism leads to the imprisonment of the soul. Libertinism leads to lax morality and ethical schism. The way to holiness of heart and life is a balance between the two in the life of the Spirit. Balance comes as we learn to listen and obey the leading of the Holy Spirit. The fruit of righteousness comes by the work of the indwelling Holy Spirit, the presence of Jesus himself. The challenge for us is to discern the difference between the voice of God, our fleshly desires and passions, and the voice of our spiritual enemy, Satan. Both sides keep us from relationship with God and neighbor. Balance is key. The law has been given to us to show us what wrongdoing looks like and to restrain us from sin. The law guided us in our learning of morality as a legal guardian takes care of a minor until we are ready to assume full responsibility for our actions. When we mature, we live in relationship not by rules (Gal. 3.21-4.7).
How do we know the one true Gospel? We recall the creeds. The creeds are like the New Testament 10 commandments in that they are a quick reference to what we all understand about Christ Jesus within the context of the who bible. We call these points of belief doctrine – and doctrine is very important in protecting us from heresy, schism, and false teaching in the church.
True Gospel avoids heresy and false teaching. It helps us to remember in detail what we believe and these beliefs help us to steer clear of heresy. Luther once wrote on Galatians as an inspiration to gain his freedom from the Catholic community. My experience with Catholicism is they have swung to the other extreme in extending preventing grace. Bonheoffer a contemporary Lutheran Christian spoke of the church becoming too lax in freedom and not demanding the ways of discipleship to be practiced for the purpose of growing into maturity. Calvin practiced a blend of both but left off the details of sanctification relying completely on justification of the soul. We are always being tempted to swing to the left or the right – but the middle way remains the balanced perspective. Paul’s response to bad doctrine is to correct it – nothing more, nothing less. I love how Bob Newhart demonstrates his counseling practice with just two words, Stop it! That’s Paul’s motto as well.
How has history defended the True Gospel? Reformations have happened across our Christian history – some helpful and some not so much. Leo (Incarnation) & Gregory the influential Bishops of Rome (Nicene Creed Doctrine), Augustine (Heart-felt), Thomas Aquinas (Reasonable Faith), John Wycliff (Bible for Common People), Martin Luther (Faith Alone, not Works), John Calvin (Personal God, Scripture & Civil Government), Ulrich Zwingli (symbolic communion & baptism by immersion), and John Wesley (Grace) were some of the biggest reformers of the protestant movement. The Crusades (Cultural Cleansing) and Monasticism (Isolation from Culture) are a few movements that have dealt with the corruption of culture.
What’s the difference between ethics and morals? As personal as our faith must be, it is never individualistic. Our beliefs are grounded in the Word of God. As much as we would like to pick and choose which biblical text we follow, all texts apply to each and every Christian believer. When we seek to apply our Christian beliefs to the world around us, our response although very personal comes from a historical tradition that is over 2000 years old. We stand with Christians across the ages who have struggled with corrupt cultural values that do not align with the Bible. In some ways we can be comforted by the thought that we are not alone in this endeavor. To be sure Paul speaks to the Galatians with very strong words about keeping the one True Gospel within the context of the church culture. Each person brings with himself/herself their own cultural understanding about life mixed with their personal and church community beliefs about God. Decision-making about faith issues can be challenging when your understanding of Christianity conflicts with someone else.
How do you view Christ’s involvement in culture? We are called to be transformers of this world (John 17). The church continues to draw strength through the creation of various denominations as the Body of Christ has discerned various aspect of the Christian life that mean more to some than others. No denomination has the only pathway to a relationship with Christ, however, we respect each denominations strength to aid some people into the community of faith while others reach another group of people. There are some 3000 Christian churches across the world with each group preach to a segment of the world’s population as only they can in their cultural context.
There are four basic modes of interacting with culture: Christ against culture (sanctifying grace) (Tertullian, mysticism), Christ of culture (preventing grace) (political parties), Christ above culture (Christ reigns within culture/culture is a good creation, mixes both preventing/sanctifying grace) (Thomas Aquinas), Christ and Culture in paradox (justifying grace, in but not of the world) (Martin Luther), and Christ the transformer of culture (John Calvin, John Wesley, Catholic Social Justice Movement).
What glasses are you wearing when making Christian value decisions? When we seek to transform the world, we often seek to transform it into our own likeness rather than in the vision of good/evil within the context of the bible. We make the bible subject to our own cultural viewpoint. It is critical that we leave the bible within its own context and not superimpose our culture in the interpretation. We must be humble in interpreting the bible understanding our own shortcomings. When we look at how we personally interpret God’s word, we can understand how complex Christian decision-making can be.
What broke Paul’s heart? What breaks God’s heart? What breaks your neighbor’s heart? What breaks your heart? Let’s pray for God to unity us in our diversity. Amen.