Category Archives: Galatians

Galatians 6:11-end

Farewell: Galatians 6:11-18

The Adult Bible Class of Home Moravian Church, originally broadcast June 14, 2009 

Introduction:               Good morning and welcome to the Adult Bible Class of Home Moravian Church. We started class early this morning with a party, so if you hear more laughter than usual it may be because the class is filled with sugar cake and coffee. I want to publicly thank the people responsible. In case you haven’t heard, today is my last broadcast as the teacher of this class. I have been doing this for nearly four years, averaging about 45 lessons a year. All of them are now posted on-line at I will leave them up for several months, but I doubt there will be anything new to add to the site. During the past four years, we have examined intently several important books of the Bible: Genesis, the Gospel of John, Ruth, I Samuel, and now Galatians.

            I hope you have seen how modern and ancient biblical scholarship helps us understand the meaning of these texts more clearly, and that you have discovered that it is good to think about the Bible. The Bible should be a great resource for people of faith, but it is often treated as something scary and threatening. I’m afraid that it has become one of those “forgotten books of ancient lore” rather than a means of grace. As long as we use the Bible as a weapon against brothers and sisters in the church, we never be able to use it as a balm to heal wounds or as a guide toward building a just society.

Last Lecture:             I am finding it hard to say good-bye, but it is not just me. I had written this entire lesson on Tuesday and then on Wednesday night my laptop computer went to sleep and never woke up. Apparently someone thought I should write a different lesson and think longer about my good-bye address. There is a program in American colleges and universities called the “Last Lecture Series.” Professors are asked to prepare a lecture as if it will be the last lecture they will ever give. What is it you want students to know above all else? It’s a tough assignment. Many professors find they have far too much to say. Others are shocked to discover how little they really have to say.

            One of my political science professors at Carolina had a tradition of ending his class with a last lecture that dealt with profound themes rather than the syllabus. He told us about his days in the Navy, especially about a young Jewish sailor who tried to keep kosher and observe his religion. He was mocked and humiliated by the other sailors. The cooks went out of their way to violate his dietary laws. He was called all of the names that centuries of human hatred have devised to dehumanize and demoralize those who are different. My professor then told the class what it was like to walk into a room and find this young Jew hanging by the neck. He took his own life rather than face the constant hatred and alienation on the ship. My professor wanted us, a group of bright young men and women to know that words do kill and that what is in your heart is every bit as important as what you stuff into your head. My summer project is preparing the 13th edition of the Handbook of Denominations in the United States, and I am saddened by the fact that I have to discuss violence in churches, mosques, and synagogues as part of the reality of modern religion. Words and attitudes kill.

Farewell:         In an hour or so in worship, Bill Leonard will announce that I will start working full-time on the staff of the Divinity School at Wake Forest University. I will also be an adjunct professor teaching whatever courses are needed that year. I’m looking forward to working for Wake Forest, but it will be odd to now longer work for the Moravian Church. Except for a couple of internships in seminary, I have served the Moravian Church my entire adult life. I started as chaplain of Moravian College, began the office of admissions at Moravian Seminary, pastured in Philadelphia, and served for eight years as chaplain and assistant professor of religion at Salem Academy and College. Seven years ago the Joint Boards of Home Church called me here to be Theologian in Residence. It is an unusual position in the Moravian Church, and I am grateful to Pastor Harris for his vision in creating it. He believed that it was important for church members to benefit from modern scholarship and theological reflection.

            This church has blessed me in countless ways, tangible and intangible. Julie and I joined here shortly after we moved to Winston-Salem in 1994. I remember the first service we attended was an Aug. 13 lovefeast that was so crowded we had to squeeze into one of the front pews. I was amazed as how hot the coffee was. Before joining the staff Julie and I both volunteered in Sunday School and youth fellowship. I even served on the Board as a member rather than a pastor, and I have loved the many opportunities I have had to serve communion here. The original plan was for me to serve as Theo in Residence for two years, but the church found ways to stretch out to seven.

            They have been very happy years for me. Thanks to your generosity I was able to complete work on a book about Moravian theology in the 18th century and write a book on the theology of the ancient Unity. I also was able to write several articles and various types of educational materials, such as a study guide for the Ground of the Unity. I edited the Hinge and was a resource person for the province. I even served as a tour guide on a couple of adventures through the Moravian heartland. And, of course, I became the teacher for this class, which is the most significant outreach ministry of Home Church. It saddens me to give all that up.

            A group of dedicated people worked very hard to try to establish a permanent position shared between the Divinity School and Home Church, but the sea was so wide and our boat was so small. We fell short of our goal, but I am deeply grateful to the three dozen individuals who generously contributed to the Comenius Scholar program that provided my income for the past three years, especially to Gene and Carol Ann Adcock who chaired the fund-raising effort. I am also grateful to the work of Kathy Barnes who wrote the checks, balanced the books, and kept me supplied with hot coffee. I am going to miss her, Jane, Bonnie, and Carol who keep our offices running..

            I have a special reason to love Home Church. The week I began my duties here, doctors discovered that I had a severely defective aortic valve. I thought I was depressed about Salem College, but I was simply not getting enough blood to my brain. Eight days after starting as Theologian in Residence I was lying at Baptist Hospital having my chest cut open. As many of you know, it takes a while to recover from heart surgery, and I am grateful that I was given time to heal. I did not waste my time at home. I was editing a book on Moravian history the night before my surgery, and I finished editing it while recuperating. The Women’s Fellowship was very generous in bringing us food, especially chicken pies. I want you to know that the first place I went after my surgery, other than a doctor’s office, was worship here at Home Church. I barely made it, but I wanted to be here. This is a remarkable congregation, and I think any pastor would feel blessed to have the privilege of serving here.

            It would be much harder to leave if I was not going to another remarkable community of faith at Wake Forest University. I am grateful that the Divinity School has a position for me and I look forward to devoting myself to the tasks that lie ahead. It is a wonderful Divinity School and a great asset to this community. Personally, I think it has become an even better place now that the students learn something about the Moravians! We’ve had a couple of converts already.

            I know that you did not tune in this morning to hear me talk about myself, and I apologize for taking so much time this morning to say what is in my heart. I was afraid that I would cry if I tried to say these things in worship, plus I want the whole city to know what a special congregation this is. I hope that you will continue listening to this broadcast. The church has a variety of speakers lined up for the summer.

Paul’s Farewell:         It is appropriate that our lesson today comes from the end of Paul’s letter to the Galatians. As far as we know, these are the last words that Paul wrote to his brothers and sisters in Galatians. He probably knew that this was his farewell or “last lecture,” and he took the opportunity to speak very personally to the Galatians. He even wrote the final instructions with his own hand instead of relying on a secretary. Literacy was a rare gift in the ancient world, and most people had to employ professional scribes to write letters and contracts. It was kind of like the days when only secretaries could type and executives had to dictate to them. The secretary would have been expected to polish up the grammar and spelling, so any errors in the Greek manuscript are the fault of Paul’s amanuensis.

            There is another reason why people like Paul dictated instead of writing. The idea of composing while writing is fairly recent. Words were meant to be spoken out loud, not read silently. Orators were accustomed to thinking while talking, just the opposite of our practice today. One of the reasons for the lively and contradictory style of Paul’s letters is that he was probably thinking out loud while dictating. It was not unusual for an author to add a conclusion to a letter in his own hand to verify that he was really the author and had approved what had been written. It was like a signature or seal. Paul may have done this with all of his letters, but he highlights it in the letter to the Galatians. He draws attention to the fact that he is writing in a very large hand so that the Galatians will not doubt that it was Paul who wrote this.

            For centuries there has been speculation about this statement that Paul is writing in large letters. Folks have argued that this is evidence that Paul continued to suffer from poor eyesight after his blinding vision on the road to Damascus. Others have thought he offer health problems that would make it difficult to write. I think Paul was like John Hancock signing the declaration in large enough letters for King George to read it without is glasses. Paul wants to make sure everyone knows that he is serious about what he has written. This is his last will and testament for the Galatian Church. He uses the remaining parchment to summarize the argument of his letter.

Read: Galatians 6:11-18

Avoiding Persecution:                        Paul makes the surprising claim that his opponents are encouraging circumcision as a way to avoid the kind of persecution Paul has endured. Circumcision would not keep the Romans from persecuting Christians since Greeks and Romans found the practice offensive. It seems likely that the ones who were persecuting uncircumcised Christians were zealous Jews like Paul had been. It is quite likely that synagogue officials would have been most hostile to Jewish Christians who mingled with the uncircumcised. Those who wanted to avoid trouble in the synagogue and in their neighbors might have encouraged Gentiles in the church to have a little surgical procedure. But in Paul’s mind, it was cowardly to adopt circumcision simply to please others, especially since this was creating sinful divisions and barriers in the church.

Boasting:        Paul accuses his rivals of boasting about the number of people they convinced to get circumcised. He makes them sound like David bringing back Philistine foreskins to King Saul. Although we no longer brag about numbers of circumcisions, we do like to brag about our ability to win people to our side. In the 1980s and 90s the Southern Baptist Convention regularly bragged about the number of baptisms it had each year. This was evidence that their theology and practice was correct. They didn’t have as much to say when more than two million members left that denomination after it adopted a new statement of faith at the turn of the century.

            Many churches claim to be “the fastest growing church.” Such claims are impossible to verify, and statistics can be deceiving. A church that grows from a dozen members to a hundred and fifty in a year would have a 1000% growth rate, which would make it the fastest growing church. It is interesting that church want to brag about growth at all. They do it to justify the theology and practice of the church, but Paul tells us that it is nothing more than boasting. It is no different from what his rivals were doing.

Christ: Paul tells the Galatians that the only thing a preacher should boast about is the cross of Christ. Redemption in Christ is one of the six essentials in Moravian theology. We did not create ourselves and we did not save ourselves and we do not make ourselves holy. That is the work of God, and we should rejoice and be glad in it. Rather than creating controversies over rites and observances, Paul says, pastors should preach Christ and let the people respond in faith, love, and hope. It is all so simple, but it is perhaps too simple for many of us.

New Creation:            It comes as a bit of a surprise when Paul tells the Galatians that circumcision doesn’t really matter after all. For several chapters he has been making an impassioned plea begging them not to submit to persecution, and now he says it doesn’t matter. Such an outward ritual will not change your soul or make you more pleasing to God. What does matter is that you become a new creature through Christ. This is Paul’s last lecture: the whole point of our religion is the transformation of human beings into new creatures.

            In his sermon on the New Creation, theologian Paul Tillich argued that everything in the life of the church must have this as its goal: preaching, sacraments, music, education, and fellowship must focus on the primary purpose of the church. That mission is to turn selfish, frightened, nasty, brutish, angry, bitter, resentful, greedy, lecherous creatures into new creations, into genuinely human beings, into people of faith. Paul wrote passionately to the Galatians because he feared they were ceasing to be a church by losing sight of what is most important. When denominations and congregations think that they exist to employ professional staff or to maintain a building or provide beautiful music or make any secondary thing primary, they cease to be churches.

Conclusion:     A church is where the good new of Jesus Christ is proclaimed in such a way that people become a new creation. It is a place where the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ is present and where strangers become brothers and sisters. A church is where everyone can be a dearly beloved child of God. Paul’s final word is my final word, too. “May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers and sisters. Amen.”

Galatians 6:1-10

Bear One Another’s Burdens: Galatians 6:1-10

The Adult Bible Class of Home Moravian Church, originally broadcast June 7, 2009

Craig Atwood

Introduction:                        Good morning and welcome to the Adult Bible Class of Home Moravian Church in Winston-Salem, NC. I hope it was a good week for you and those you love most dearly. The staff at Home Church is eagerly awaiting tomorrow morning when the new air conditioning system becomes fully operational. This is the last week of school for children in the public system, and I know that a lot of little folks are looking forward to different activities in the summer. Every year my daughter Madeleine likes to do the Five Yesterdays program in Old Salem. The boys and girls get to learn all sorts of old crafts and games. Sometimes they even get to shingle a house. In July we will have Vacation Bible School here at Home Church, led by Tamara Thomas and Mallie Graham, both of whom taught for years in the public schools. I taught one of Mallie’s former students at Salem Academy who then went on to Harvard. Latonya returned to Winston-Salem and still tells everyone that she is my fifth daughter. I can’t guarantee that a week of VBS will get you into an Ivy League College, but I think it will be a week well spent. In today’s lesson, we’ll see that Paul valued teachers.

It’s been a rough couple of weeks for Christians in America. First there was all of the uproar over a popular Catholic priest in Miami who decided to convert to the Episcopal Church so that he could marry the woman he has loved for many years. His case is a good example of what Paul is discussing in Galatians. The church should not impose unnecessary laws and burdens on people. We know from Scripture that even Peter had a wife. Although Paul encouraged his followers to remain celibate, he never made it a requirement for church leaders. The other story is far more tragic. A doctor named George Tiller in Kansas was murdered in the foyer of the Lutheran Church where he was serving as an usher. His family was present when he died. His death is a grim reminder that religiously inspired violence is not confined to the Middle East. The bullets that were fired in that house of worship in Kansas were preceded by many years of verbal assault in many houses of worship throughout the United States. It is sad that we have two such dramatic stories illustrating the themes we have been discussing in Paul’s letter to the Galatians.

Fruit of the Spirit:                        Last week we ran out of time while discussing Paul’s concept of the fruit of the spirit. A member of the class made the very good observation that Paul is not only contrasting flesh and Spirit here; he is also contrasting work and fruit. We live in a work-oriented society; Americans work longer hours on average than any other people in the industrialized world. We take fewer vacations, and even though we are less healthy than most nations, we take fewer sick days. This, of course, only applies to those Americans who have jobs. Our society is one of the few that believes that the reward for hard work is more work. Even our leisure activities take the form of work. We go to the gym to “work-out”. We take work home. School kids have about two hours of homework each night. I was struck by this statement of a CEO in an interview in the Times recently: “I get up at 4:30 every morning. I like the quiet time. It’s a time I can recharge my batteries a bit. I exercise and I clear my head and I catch up on the world. I read papers. I look at e-mail. I surf the Web. I watch a little TV, all at the same time. I call it my quiet time, but I’m already multitasking. I love listening to music, so I’ll do that in the morning, too, when I’m exercising and watching the news.” That explains a lot about business.

Few of us know what is like to lie on a hillside and try to find shapes in the clouds or see how many stars you can count in the night sky. We assume that hard work leads to success, and much of the time it does, but we may have forgotten there are good things that do not come through work. One of the hardest things to learn in sports is the need to relax rather than trying so hard to do it right. Whether it is baseball or tennis or judo, you have to learn when to stop trying and just do. This is what Yoda taught Luke Skywalker.

Paul urges us to live in such a way that we produce Spiritual fruit. Nearly every morning I look at our tomato vines to see how the fruit is growing. I worked all of five minutes planting the tomatoes and another ten staking them. I haven’t even watered them much this year thanks to all of the rain. I am simply taking care of them and waiting for the fruit that I will enjoy. This is often hard for Americans. We like to work hard to increase the yield or make things ripen faster, but Paul understood how organic processes work. Things take time to develop, and they will blossom on their own if you let them. This is how he describes the working of the Spirit of Christ in us. It is foolishness to force yourself to become more gentle or patient or generous or kind. You have to gradually become a patient person.

Paul is urging the Galatians to relax and let the Spirit work with in them; to guide them to a more wholesome way of living. This is one of the things worship should help us with, but many churches simply ratchet up the tension and guilt and shame that infects our daily lives. What would happen if Moravian leaders followed this list of Spiritual fruit for the triennial review. Ask yourself: is your congregation full of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control or is it full of enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissension, factions, and envy? In our lesson for this week, Paul builds on this theme with some practical advice for all churches.

Read: Galatians 6:1-10

Restoration:                        Paul talks so much about the power of the Spirit of Christ to transform lives that he sometimes gives the impression that baptism alone turns a person around. This has been the source of a lot of contention in the history of Christianity, and all I can say this morning is that Moravians have never believed that baptism is the same as spiritual rebirth. Baptism is outward sign, but it does magically re-order a person’s psychology. Someone recently told me that she thought churches should do psychological screening of members. Pastors quickly learn that things do not work in the real world of the church the way that theologians say they should work. Theoretically, salvation should be a simple process of having faith in Jesus, being baptized, and receiving the Holy Spirit. After that people should live in the Spirit and not satisfy the desires of the flesh, just like Paul said. Theologians argue about which comes first, regeneration or baptism, but that’s one of those chicken and the egg questions. The real problem is that theory rarely matches experience. Therefore it is gratifying that Paul acknowledges to the Galatians that brothers and sisters in the church transgress. Paul was a pastor who understood that humans are fallible creatures. He knows that the believers in Galatia were not perfect. Some of the situations Paul writes about in his letters could be on Jerry Springer. He does not address any specific type of transgression in the letter to the Galatians but merely tells them how to restore a brother or sister has committed a transgression.

Paul’s words are a little hard for us to make sense of today. We live in a society that has taken the concept of personal freedom to the point that we believe that we are autonomous individuals who have no responsibility to others for our actions. Even if we choose to join an organization, we tend to believe that our lives are our own and no one can judge us or hold us accountable. We are taught from an early age to ignore people’s private lives unless they do something so scandalous they have to be fired from their job or arrested. When someone is guilty of such an offense, we then cast them into the outer darkness and forget them. For the most part, we ignore or tolerate offensive behavior until we are forced to cut the individual off completely. I’m sure you can think of examples from the news or your personal experience. As a wise person pointed out to me last week, we do not forgive or forget in our society.

Gentleness:                        Paul asks the church to do something quite different. When someone is known to be doing something wrong or harmful, the community of faith should work to restore them rather than simply condemning them. Their transgression created a rift in the relationship and the goal of church discipline should be to restore the relationship. Keep in mind that Paul believed that sin is harmful to people and the community, and that the loving thing to do is help someone turn away from sin. What Paul is describing is similar to the modern practice of having an “intervention” with someone whose addictions are harming themselves and others. The goal of such an intervention is not to punish offenders or shame them; it is to help them. It can be unpleasant, but it is done out of love and should be done with a spirit of gentleness.

Paul gives an interesting warning here, instructing that the ones who restore a transgressor should take care not to be tempted. It is not clear what Paul means here. He might be acknowledging that we are often tempted to join in the sin we are supposed to be helping another person overcome. Paul could be warning people not to get dragged down by someone you are trying to save. Of he could be referring to the temptation of self-righteousness that is always there when you judge another person’s behavior. We have to admit that we sometimes make ourselves look good by condemning others, which is why some children are tattle-tales. In condemning others, we are often seeking praise for ourselves.

I suspect, though, that Paul was warning against the temptation of being too severe in dealing with transgression. One of the dangers of corporeal punishment, for instance, is that the one wielding the paddle or switch grows too fond of inflicting pain. Comenius warned teachers never to punish students while they are still angry. It often happens that attempts to correct or punish offenders lead us to do worse things. The history of Christianity is filled with overzealous defenders of morality and orthodoxy, and it is illuminating that Paul includes this warning in his harshest letter. He may have been reminding himself that the goal of his letter was restoration, not punishment.

The Law of Christ:                        It is in the context of restoring an erring brother or sister that Paul gives one of the best verses of Scripture: “Bear one another’s burden and in this way fulfill the law of Christ.” Bear one another’s burdens. The church is not just a social institution or a means of personal salvation; it is the community where we learn to help each other. Christianity is not just about what you can do as an individual; it is about your willingness to share the burdens of others. There was a time in the church, including the Moravian Church, when people could speak honestly about their struggles with temptation and seek forgiveness when they had failed. Many people today tell me that the last place on earth that they would admit their sins and problems is in the church. We have learned to keep our real problems secret in church. We don’t want anyone to know how we are tempted and how we falter. This may be the real reason that churches are dying these days; we are no longer bearing one another’s real burdens or letting others help us when we are troubled.  

This is not an incidental matter. Paul says that we fulfill the Law of Christ when we share our burdens in love. This verse has often bothered interpreters. For five chapters Paul has been critical of those who try to live by the Law, and here he is saying that there is a Law of Christ. He doesn’t tell us what he means by the Law of Christ, but he does say that we fulfill it by helping those who are struggling, by restoring those who have committed transgression. Clearly this Law of Christ includes redemption and forgiveness; compassion and charity. Bear one another’s burdens rather than condemning them and excluding them. The Law of Christ is not a law of fear and punishment; it is gentle and joyful and redemption. Perhaps most importantly in our modern society; it is not individualistic.

Carry Your Own Load:            In typical Pauline fashion, as soon as Paul tells us to bear one another’s burdens, he tells us that each of us must carry our own loads. This is one of the problems with trying to write general instructions. I was always confused by adages and proverbs as a child. Should you look before you leap or is the one who hesitates lost? A fool and his money are soon parted, but you should still cast your bread upon the water. Wisdom requires more than memorizing proverbs and Bible verses. We musst understood the context and purpose of these instructions. Everyone must carry their own pack on a long hike, but if someone gets injured, others take up the burden. That is what Paul is saying. You should bear one another’s burdens in the church, but you should not force someone to carry your burden because you are lazy.

Paul is also instructing the brothers and sisters in Galatia to resist the temptation to pry too deeply into each other’s lives. I bet that Paul had in mind Jesus’ teaching about the temptation to remove the mote in another person’s eye while ignoring the timber in your own eye. It is remarkably easy for people to ignore their own faults and failings while gossiping and criticizing others. The first step in church discipline is not an inquisition; it is rigorous self-examination. Test your own work, Paul says, rather than criticizing the work of others. The food critic in the movie Rattatoulie confesses that the work of a critic is easy. Others do the hard work of preparing food, and the critic simply uses wit to condemn. Churches today are filled with critics, but Paul tells us that we should focus on what we are called to do rather than obsessing about the failures of others.

Teachers:                        In the midst of all this advice, Paul throws out an apparently random comment that those who are taught God’s word should share in all good things with their teachers. Once again, Paul does not clarify what he means. It is likely that he simply saying that students should provide for their teachers instead of being ungrateful for their instruction. Keep in mind that there were no professional clergy in the first century; no pension plans; health insurance; no housing allowances. Those who taught in the church did so because they believed in what they were teaching and wanted to instruct others in a better way of living. They were more like yoga instructors at the Y or literacy volunteers than like modern professional clergy. Rather than working to advance their economic prospects, they chose to spend time instructing converts in the Scripture and the teachings of Jesus.

I strongly suspect that Paul was talking about more than paying teachers here. Nothing makes true teachers happier than the success of their students. A paycheck is necessary, but seeing someone learn is the greatest reward. One of my students at Wake recently told me how proud he was to finally get an A on one of my papers. He was a senior and that had been one of his goals in school. He was happy, not because of an A in a grade book, but because he had earned an A. I nearly cried when he shared his pride with me. That is sharing in all good things with your teachers. This is what we need more of in church.

Sowing and Reaping:            Paul ends this section of Galatians with a familiar admonition. We will reap what we sow. I know parents who struggle with teen-age children but fail to recognize that they are reaping what they sowed when they spoiled those children when they were young. Paul takes this truth about reaping what we sow and applies it specifically to the issue of the flesh and spirit. Remember what we learned last week. The flesh is not the same as bodily desires or the “lower nature,” it is selfishness and corruption. If we spent our time and our money and our energy gratifying our selfishness, then that will be our reward. If we spend our time sowing discord and strife in church, then that is the kind of church we will have. But if we direct our energy toward Christ and his Spirit, then our churches will not be places where blood is shed and hatred is allowed to take hold.

Galatians 5:16-end

Walk in the Spirit: Galatians 5:16-26

The Adult Bible Class of Home Moravian Church, originally broadcast May 31, 2009

Introduction:           Good morning and welcome to the Adult Bible class of Home Church on this beautiful Pentecost Sunday. It was a stormy week, and I’m afraid that I lost part of the lesson during a power outage. Unfortunately it was the most profound and eloquent thing I’ve ever written, but it is lost forever. Sorry about that; we’ll have to make do with what we’ve got. According to the good folks at WSJS, our radio audience is at least 40 times larger than our audience here at the church, and we thank you for tuning in. Many members of Home Church are up at Laurel Ridge celebrating Pentecost in the midst of nature and so our numbers are smaller here today. Pentecost is one of the oldest festival days in the church year, and it used to be the day when congregations pulled out all of the stops on the organ. Unlike many Christian festivals where joy is tempered by the sobering reality of Jesus’ death, Pentecost is unalloyed celebration. Pentecost is the Greek word for the Jewish festival of Shauvot, and it is the only Christian festival mentioned by name in the New Testament. The traditional reading for Pentecost Sunday is from the Book of Acts, which tells about the disciples preaching to a large gathering of people who had come to the Temple for Shauvot. In vivid language, the story says that the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples like tongues of fire, and they could be understood by people from many nations. It is a story that combines Jewish understandings of the prophetic gift of God’s Spirit with the eschatology vision of a world united in God. The miracle in Acts was not that the disciples preached in unknown tongues but that the listeners heard the good news of Jesus in their own language. From the very beginning, the church has been a multi-cultural, multi-linguistic community where diversity of customs does not undermine unity of Spirit. Our lesson for today fits perfectly with this theme of Pentecost since Paul is instructing the Galatians about the Spirit of Christ.

Faith Fulfilled in Love             Last week we discussed Paul’s insistence that the law of God is fulfilled when we love our neighbors in the same way that we love ourselves. In verse 5:6, Paul says that the only thing that truly counts is faith made effective through love. This is sometimes translated as “faith completed in love,” and it is one of the core concepts of Moravian theology. This is one place where I think that Martin Luther let his struggles with the Catholic Church cloud his reading of Galatians. Luther’s great spiritual breakthrough was that we are justified by faith not by works of the law, and he used this idea to dismantle the structure of medieval Catholicism. Pilgrimages, penances, self-mortification, indulgences, relics, holy water, incense, and canon law were swept away by Luther and his followers in an attempt to return to the simple message of Paul. But Luther was so afraid that the Protestants would impose new works that are a burden to the conscience that he objected to all attempts to put faith and works together.

By the time Luther nailed up his famous 95 theses , the Moravian Church had been in existence for half-a-century. The Moravians had already abolished many of the trappings of medieval religion, such as treating baptismal fonts as sacred vessels filled with holy water. In many ways, the Moravians were more Protestant the Lutherans, but they disagreed profoundly with Luther on the interpretation of Galatians 5:6. The Moravians never endorsed the idea that we are justified only by our belief in Christ. Faith must be completed through active love in the world. Incidentally, John Calvin and John Wesley also disagreed with Luther on this point, and I think Paul makes it clear that faith and love cannot be separated. Love is faith in action. The old Moravians claimed that there are three essentials in the church: faith, love, and hope. All of the things we normally think of as essential, such as baptism, Holy Communion, preaching, and even Scripture are not essential in themselves. They direct us to the essentials; they help us live in faith, love, and hope. Without love, theological precision and liturgical correctness are mere vanity. If you have faith in Christ and trust that you have been saved through Christ, then you will live in love just as he lived. Paul spells this principle out in more detail in our lesson for today.

Read: Galatians 5:16-26

Walk by the Spirit:             For some reason the most popular modern English translations of the NT give a paraphrase of Galatians 5:16 instead of a literal translation. They say that we should “live by the Spirit,” but Paul uses the more colorful expression “walk by the Spirit.” I don’t know if this is because modern church leaders are convinced that people cannot make sense of metaphor or because they want to make a statement about being inclusive of those who cannot walk, but the effect is to reduce the vividness of Scripture. We do the same thing when we rewrite old hymns and liturgies, and I think it contributes to the strange literalism that grips modern Americans. It is likely that Paul intentionally chose the word “walk” here to connect with the Jewish verb halak, which means “walk” and is the root of the word halaka, which is the term for the ethical teachings of the Torah. In Jewish biblical interpretation, halaka deals with the practical instructions of the Scriptures. Paul is continuing his argument that Christians will fulfill the true meaning of the Torah if they live in love. He is not rejecting the spirit of the law of Moses, just the imposition of the external rules of the Torah. He tells the Galatians that they should walk by the Spirit.

Unlike the word “live”, which can refer to a passive state of existence, “walk” is an active verb. We walk with our bodies, minds, and senses. I am one of the millions of Americans who walk simply for exercise every morning. Having destroyed all of the cartilage in my knee, jogging is verboten, so each morning I do a circuit around the neighborhood walking. In many ways it is a pointless walk that takes me back where I started, but it is still active. It strains the muscles and takes me out of my house into the neighborhood. As I walk I greet neighbors, growl at dogs, look out for snakes, pick up trash, enjoy flowers, avoid school buses, and think about my day. Often I pray. I once stared into the eyes of a hawk that was standing on the road. In Paul’s day, walking was the main form of transportation, and almost everyone walked several miles a day. Today we shut ourselves up into private cars, with air conditioning and music, and drive past our neighbors without speaking. In Paul’s day, you walked everywhere and had the opportunity to love your neighbors on a daily basis. When Paulsays that we should walk in the Spirit; he meant that every aspect of our lives should be conducted in the Spirit of Christ and we should take that Spirit into the world.

Desires of the Flesh:           Paul contrasts walking in the Spirit with gratifying desires of the flesh. In our day the word “flesh” generally has a sexual connotation. Back when we used the King James Bible, I remember how teen-agers would snicker when Moses warned the Israelites about longing for the “flesh pots” of Egypt. It never occurred to us that he was actually talking about stewed beef and chicken soup. There is just something about that word “flesh.” When I was chaplain at Moravian College, I read one of the lessons for the Christmas service. It said “and all flesh shall see it together,” but there was something about my inflection on the word “flesh” that really tickled the seminary students. Rev. Neil Routh still teases me about “flesh.” In our society the phrase “fleshly desires” or “carnal desires” means sex and nothing more, but that is not what Paul meant.

There is a long debate in the history of biblical interpretation over Paul’s use of the words “spirit” and “flesh.” Early theologians, influenced by Greek philosophy, assumed that Paul was contrasting the body and soul. This view is often called dualism, and it proposes that humans must subjugate bodily needs in order to pursue intellectual, spiritual, and artistic pursuits. According to this view, our bodily nature is an animal nature, but in our spirit or mind we are like angels. This dualism contributed to the long, and often destructive, history of Christian asceticism and “mortification of the flesh.” Christian monks and nuns often went to extremes trying to kill bodily desires, especially sexual desire. During the colonial era Christians were often appalled where they came upon tribal peoples who were perfectly at ease with their bodies and gratified natural desires without guilt or shame. In the movie African Queen the missionary tells the boat captain: “Nature, Mr. Allnut, is what we were put on this earth to overcome.”

However, it is not clear that Paul is using the words “flesh” and “spirit” in this way. When we look at his list of carnal desires, most of them have nothing to do with our bodily natures. Many of the carnal things he condemns are mental rather than physical things. Paul appears to be using the word “flesh” to refer to selfishness and self-gratification at the expense of others. When Paul is talking about satisfying the desires of the flesh, he is talking about most of the things that advertisers try to convince us to do with our money. I’m afraid “flesh” also refers to some of the things that promoted in colleges and universities: ambition, pride, and competitiveness. Flesh is not simply the meat on our bones; it is an undisciplined hunger or craving for power and status. Flesh, in other words, represents the distorted motivations of our unredeemed nature.

The Spirit:     When Paul talks about the Spirit here in chapter five, he is not talking about a part of the human being, what the philosophers used to call a “faculty.” He is talking specifically about the Spirit of Christ that dwells within a believer. The body is not the prison for the soul, as some of the ancient philosophers believed; the body can be the living Temple of the Spirit of Christ according to Paul. So, in urging the Galatians to walk in the Spirit of Christ instead of satisfying their fleshly desires, Paul is saying that both our minds and bodies should be filled with Christ’s Spirit.

Translators sometimes inadvertently obscure Paul’s thought here by making it sound like he is commanding the Galatians to stop gratifying their fleshly desires as an act of the will. What he says literally is that if the Galatians walk in the Spirit of Christ, then they will not gratify their desires. In other words, those who are in Christ live differently than other people because they have been transformed by faith. They do not need to mortify their flesh in order to discipline their desires; their desires are different because they are filled with the Spirit of Christ. This is perfectly consistent with Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, by the way. Good deeds come from a good heart.

Paul’s List of Carnal Things:   Being a good preacher and church administrator, Paul provides a list of carnal desires to illustrate this theological point. There is a principle in psychology that we remember the first and last things in a list best. This is called primacy and recency, and I’m afraid it affects our reading of Paul. He starts his list of fleshly desires with sex to get the attention of his audience. Paul probably figured the Galatians were getting a little bored and so he starts off with Fornication and Licentiousness, which sound better with a Southern accent. You probably perked up a little as well. Paul doesn’t go into the kind of detail we expect in our day, but he assumed his audience had some familiarity with these concepts. Unfortunately many of us think this is all that Paul was talking about and we don’t go past verse 19. If we do read further, we tend jump to the last items on the list: drunkenness and carousing. It sounds like Paul was writing to a college fraternity rather than a church. Especially here in the Bible Belt, preaching often focuses on the condemnation of sex and alcohol, especially in combination, but we’ve learned through hard experience that prohibition does not curb desire; it may increase it. It is probably not accidental that Bible Belt has the highest teen-age pregnancy rate, divorce rate, violent crime rate, and rate of alcoholism and drug abuse in America, but that’s a topic for another day.

 We should note that Paul does not focus just on sex, drugs, and rock and roll. His list of the “works of the flesh” includes idolatry and sorcery, which are forms of religious abuse. Idolatry is worshiping what we’ve made rather than worshiping the God who has made us. Sorcery, on the other hand, is the attempt to use spiritual or religious things to harm other people. It does not have to be voodoo or witchcraft; it can be the use religious symbols to manipulate and control others. Our idolatry and sorcery today are more subtle than in Paul’s day, but I think we can say that whenever we use the name of God to enrich  ourselves or harm others we are gratifying carnal desires rather living in the Spirit of Christ.

Modern Christians should pay particular attention to the middle of Paul’s list of works of the flesh: enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissentions, factions, and envy. It sounds like Paul is writing to a political party, but remember he is addressing the church. This gets personal. You may have resisted sexual temptation and never been drunk, but think about the times you tried to get your own way in church out of pride. Think about the way you’ve stirred up anger and dissent. Think of how many sermons you’ve heard that seemed designed to stir up dissension and create factions. I hate to say it, but clergy are among the worst offenders when it comes to envy and jealousy, present company excluded of course. This summer I’m working on the 13th edition of the Handbook of Denominations, and it is always a little depressing to read the history of church divisions in America. Some the divisions were over matters of great importance, such as slavery, but many were not.

Paul was writing to a church split by religious controversy. He had brought together Jew and Gentile, but someone came along and tried to convince the Galatians that only the circumcised were truly acceptable to God. The Galatians Christians could no longer even eat together because of divisions in the church. Paul tells them that these divisions are not the result of a sincere desire to live according to the Spirit of Christ; they are works of the flesh. He is calling for the Galatians to repent rather than being selfish and factious. Paul warns the Galatians that those who live according to their selfish desires will not inherit the blessings of the Kingdom of God. In Jesus’ words, they already have their reward. I wonder how many self-righteous, angry, defenders of orthodoxy will be surprised to learn that they really did not know the Christ they preached with such gusto.

Fruit of the Spirit:            In order to make his point clear, Paul gives a contrasting list of the fruit of the Spirit. This list has guided Moravian theology for centuries and it should provide all Christians with a yardstick for measuring our churches. People often think that fanaticism, blind devotion, and zeal are signs that people, but Paul says something quite different. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. He teases the legalists in Galatia by pointing out that there is no law against these things. These are things that cannot be legislated; they must be learned.

This list of the fruit of the Spirit should be the yardstick by which we examine ourselves and our churches. If the Spirit of Christ is present, there will be joy rather than anger. If the Spirit of Christ is present there will be gentleness and kindness rather than cruelty and fear. If the Spirit of Christ is present, there will be no need for stewardship campaigns because people will be generous with time and money. Those who have experienced the grace of Christ will be persons of peace who seek to do good in the world. That is all the time we have for this week. We’ll pick up next week with the fruit of the Spirit and church discipline.

Galatians 5:1-15

Faith, Freedom, and Love: Galatians 5:1-15

The Adult Bible Class of Home Moravian Church, originally broadcast May 24, 2009

Craig Atwood

Introduction:                        Good morning and welcome to the Adult Bible Class of Home Moravian Church on this lovely Memorial Day weekend. Our nation sets aside this holiday to remember all of those men and women who died in warfare. Let us also remember their parents, spouses, and children who suffered as well. War has terrible costs, and I think all people of faith can join in praying for peace.

I hope it has been a good week for you and those you love most dearly. We survived commencement at Wake Forest, and Joe Biden gave a very nice address on Monday morning. I noticed a couple of young men in caps, gowns, and hoods standing at the back of the stage during his address. I’m pretty sure they were wearing master of divinity robes and hoods, but they were not our graduates. When the Vice President left the stage, they followed after him, and I could see their ear pieces. I never knew that Secret Service employed agents with Master of Divinity degrees. I need to add that to the career options available for our graduates.

Some of you have already heard my big news, but just to make it official, my contract at Home Church as Theologian in Residence ends in June and will not be renewed. I have enjoyed serving at Home Church for the past seven years, but thankfully we do not have to sell our house. The Dean of the Divinity School has promised me a full-time position beginning in July, and I’m looking forward to that. I will teach the required introductory courses in Christian theology next year and will have administrative duties as well. We are hopeful that this will turn into a permanent position at Wake. My last Sunday teaching this Adult Bible Class will be on June 14. I will have taught the class for just short of four years, averaging about 44 lessons a year. That does not compare to the tenure of Bishop Rondthaler or Jack White. At this point a successor has not been appointed. I will miss our weekly chats, but it will be nice to have an occasional weekend free in the future. If you would like to be in the studio audience for a live broadcast of the Adult Bible Class before I leave, come to the Christian Education building of Home Church next Sunday at 9:45. Tickets are free for the first 100 people in line.

Circumcision Again:            Last week we discussed Paul’s use of the Genesis account of Abraham and his wives to make the point that Christians are children of God’s promise rather than slaves of the law. That section ended with Paul’s rousing statement that it was for freedom that Christ had set us free. This week Paul will turn his attention directly to the issue that motivated the letter: circumcision. Keep in mind that circumcision was not a medical procedure in Paul’s day; it was the sign of the covenant between God and the children of Abraham. Paul recognized that circumcision was symbolic of a life under the law of Moses, which included separation of Jews and Gentiles. He summarizes his argument against the law in the first part of chapter 5, and he works himself up so much that he uses an insult that would be unacceptable for pastors today.

Read: 5:1-15

Christ or the Law:                        Freedom is a difficulty thing. A character in Dostoyevsky’s book The Brothers Karamazov tells a parable about Jesus returning in medieval Spain. The Grand Inquisitor of the Catholic Church arrested him because he was a threat to the social order. He told Jesus that the Church had to “correct” his teaching because people do not really want freedom. He says, “I tell Thee that man is tormented by no greater anxiety than to find someone quickly to whom he can hand over that gift of freedom with which the ill-fated creature is born.” The Inquisitor tells Jesus that he will order the crowds to tie him to a stake and pile up wood, and they will obediently light the fire because they have chosen to be slaves protected by the church rather than live as free people. At the end of his long speech, the Inquisitor waits for Jesus to protest, but “He suddenly approached the old man in silence and softly kissed him on his bloodless aged lips. That was all his answer. The old man shuddered. His lips moved. He went to the door, opened it, and said to Him: ‘Go, and come no more… come not at all, never, never!’”

“For Freedom Christ has set us Free.” This is Paul’s summary of the Good News of Jesus Christ. For thousands of years, men have built kingdoms, empires, and dictatorships that have oppressed people economically, politically, and physically. Many people feel a need to control and threaten others as a way to prove to themselves that they are important and powerful. For as long as there have been oppressive governments, there have been revolts led by liberators who declare they will set the people free. Time and again, victorious liberators become like the oppressors they fought against.

Paul was familiar with the oppression of the Roman Empire, but he did not call for liberation from Rome. He believed in Jesus as the Messiah, even though the Romans executed Jesus. Paul told the Galatians that Jesus died to set us free. Jesus is the Messiah who liberates his people from oppression, but Paul recognized that oppression is a state of mind more than a state of body. Likewise freedom is a state of mind. Paul had been in prison and in chains, but he knew he was free in Christ no matter what happened to his body. It’s like that old slave spiritual: “I sing because I’m happy; I sing because I’m free.”

Paul was trying to convince the Galatians that they were indeed free from religious and spiritual oppression, but he knew that freedom is hard. He knew that simple faith seems too simple a thing for many people. His rivals from Jerusalem came preaching an appealing message that included adoption of the law of Moses. All the Galatians had to do was scar their flesh through circumcision and live according to the dictates of the old law so they could believe they alone were acceptable to God. It is tempting to hand over responsibility for your actions to someone else and to live by a set of rules and regulations, but Paul urged the Galatians to stand fast and live like men and women who have been liberated from the power of sin by Christ.

Scandal of the Cross:            As we have noted several times in these lessons, Paul saw circumcision as symbolic of a lack of faith on the part of the new Christians. He warns that if they adopt the law of Moses, then they will render the liberating work of Christ meaningless. We are having a similar national debate about our own constitution, rights, and freedoms. It is tempting to give up freedom when we feel threatened because freedom is risky, but what is the point in fighting for freedom if we adopt the practices of dictators? Paul reminds the Galatians that his own life would have been easier in many ways if he had not chosen to follow a crucified Messiah. He would not have been abused and imprisoned if he had simply stayed within the bounds of religious convention. But he found a new way of life in Christ and was granted a vision of a new world where Jew and Gentile, slave and free, men and women could live as brothers and sisters instead of enemies. Once he embraced the liberating way of the cross, Paul did not turn back despite the costs.

There are many theologians and preachers today who are embarrassed by this way of the cross. Some of this embarrassment is because of what some churches have done with the cross, turning it into a magical talisman or using it to harass and abuse people. But many folks are simply scandalized by Jesus’ death. Nearly three hundred years ago, Zinzendorf complained about preachers who were so refined that they wanted to turn Christianity into a legalistic, moralistic religion that rendered the cross meaningless. Today there are theologians who claim that the story of the cross leads to child abuse and other forms of violence. Some even blame the cross for the Holocaust, but they offer scant evidence to support those claims.

If the cross is a disturbing image for us, it was even more so 2000 years ago. Paul knew that the cross was a scandal or a stumbling block. It is still shocking to claim that the Romans crucified the son of God, and it is even more shocking to claim that his death set the world free from oppression and fear. Paul knows that the way of freedom and the way of the cross is difficult. He uses a sports metaphor to make his case. The Galatians were like runners sprinting freely toward their goal, but then their opponents cut them off and tripped them up. Paul wants them to regain their footing and get back in the race.

In the movie Labyrinth a teen-age girl is trying to rescue her baby brother who was taken by the goblin-king, who looks an awful lot like David Bowie. The goblin-king uses various tricks to knock her off the path. At one point, a crone start to pile the girl up with her prized possessions from childhood so that she cannot walk. She is simultaneously being seduced away from her quest and being oppressed by her past. She is offered slavery under the guise of security, and told to abandon her love for her brother in order to make herself happy. This is what Paul is accusing his rivals of doing to the Galatians. They are seducing and tripping up these new believers, and Paul is trying to break their spell. He is so angry that he tells the circumcisers to go all the way and emasculate themselves. It is a crude insult, but is revealing. Paul believed that their way was sterile and impotent.

Serve One Another:                        After class recently someone raised a question similar to one that Paul’s rivals must have raised about his teaching. All of this talk about freedom and not submitting to the law of the old covenant sounds like an excuse for immorality. How would we know right from wrong if we did not have the Ten Commandments and the other laws in Leviticus? Isn’t there a danger in preaching freedom?

Speaking as a parent and teacher, I certainly share this concern. There is a scene in the movie Dead Poets Society where the head of a boys school warns the English teacher against his innovative methods that encourage boys to challenge assumptions. The teacher responded that he thought the point of education was to teach people to think for themselves and be free. The headmaster responded angrily, “Not on your life.” He believed that students must fear authority or they would indulge their selfish passions. Indeed some of the liberated students went too far in expressing themselves. Those of you who lived through the 60s know how quickly talk of freedom can turn to wanton madness. The road to freedom sometimes veers into the morass of chaos and confusion.

In his book The Sacred Cause of Liberty, Nathan Hatch explored how preachers in America supported the Revolution, using arguments from Galatians, but then they grew worried that the new nation appeared to be too wild and undisciplined. They wanted to restore order and control. We often struggle with the question of how to create stable institutions and social order when people are free to make their own choices. How do you balance individual human rights and the common good?

Freedom and Self-control:                        Paul, of course, was not writing about the political system; he was writing to an illegal gathering of Christians living as pilgrims in a hostile world. He was also not talking about freedom in the abstract; he was writing to people who had died with Christ and been raised with Christ into a new life through baptism. He was writing to people who experienced the Holy Spirit in their lives, who had voluntarily rejected their old way of living in order to live as dearly loved children of God. He was writing to those who believed that Christ had purchased them from sin, death, and the devil not with gold or silver but with his own blood.

And his message to them was profoundly simple. The way to live in freedom is to serve one another willingly. If we use our freedom as an excuse for selfishness and sinful indulgence, we merely proved that we were still enslaved to sin. If we use our freedom to oppress, harass, and abuse others, we merely proved we are still enslaved to the devil. If we are still obsessed with our status, our power, our security, our authority, our looks, our property, our wants, and our cravings, we merely proved we are slaves. Paul tells the Galatians, that if they use freedom as an excuse to indulge their desires, they might as well go back to the old covenant and their old religious superstitions. That is not the way of Christ. But if we have been redeemed by Christ and reclaimed by God as his dearly beloved children, then we are free to serve one another out of love.

The Entire Law:                        Love, for Paul, is not a sentimental thing; love is active. Love is the intense desire to seek the good of another person. This leads to one of the fundamental teachings of Christianity: the entire law is fulfilled in a single word. Love your neighbor as yourself. This is one of the few times that Paul quotes Jesus, and it is quite likely that this was part of the instructions for early Christians. According to the Talmud, there were ancient rabbis who also said this, and it appears to have been part of a lively debate within Judaism. But the Pharisees generally maintained that the Mosaic laws provides the detailed instructions on how to love God and your neighbor. If you fulfill law, you are loving your neighbor. Jesus, and Paul argued the other way around. If you truly love your neighbor, then you will not need to worry about the details of the law. You will do what is best for them.

Anyone who has dealt with our legal system knows that laws that are intended to help people sometimes hurt people. One of the reasons we have humans as judges instead of computers is because we recognize that even good laws can be harmful in certain circumstances. We recognize that we need wisdom, flexibility, and empathy in our application of the law. The word empathy has been in the news a lot lately, and I’ve been surprised that people do not seem to recognize it as a primary Christian virtue. Jesus defined love of neighbor in terms of the Golden Rule that we should do to others only what we would want them to do us. Philosophers point out weaknesses in this aphorism, and skeptics ridicule it by saying we should do unto others before they do unto us, but the basic message of the Golden Rule is powerful. Jesus tells us that we need to be empathetic. Paul told the Galatians that those who have been redeemed by Christ and set free from the law should be able to feel the pain of others. The love of Christ makes us more empathetic, not less. Jesus teaches us to see how our actions affect others for good or ill.

This is what Paul is talking about when he says that the law is fulfilled when we love our neighbors as ourselves. It is curious that the Greek version of this commandment is written in the future tense. This may indicate that Paul recognized that the Torah itself was looking toward a day when the law would no longer be needed because God’s people would live in love. Martin Luther expressed Paul’s teaching here in a profound paradox. Christians are the freest people on earth, subject to no one. But Christians are also slaves of Christ and thus subject to everyone. Because they have been set free by Christ and no longer live for self, Christians can be loving servants of their neighbors.

Stop Devouring Each Other:            Paul believed that the church was one place in this brutal world where the values of love and empathy should govern our behavior. Perhaps he was naïve, but I’ve noticed that many of the so-called realists sow discord and distrust when try to control others through intimidation. Comenius understood this, and he warned the rulers of his day that if you rely on coercion and force, people turn violent. Paul held a mirror up for the Galatians to see that the result of their legalism was that they are arguing and fighting with each other. He describes them like hungry dogs trying to destroy one another. We often think churches divide over theology or doctrine, but churches really get in trouble when they lose the ability to love. When you can sing because you know you are free; you can also love as Christ loves you.

Galatians 4:12 – 5:1

Paul’s Birthpangs: Galatians 4:12-5:1

The Adult Bible Class of Home Moravian Church, originally broadcast May 17, 2009.

Craig D. Atwood

Introduction:            Good morning and welcome to the Adult Bible Class broadcasting live from Home Church in Old Salem. I hope it has been a good week for you and those you love. It was a loud week at the church. They have been cleaning out the air ducts in the building as part of our renovations, and it was a bit hard to concentrate at the church. So I wrote part of this at Panera bakery. This is a big weekend at Wake Forest culminating in commencement tomorrow morning. Last night we hooded the graduates in the Master of Divinity program. There were some who were not sure if Greek or Hebrew would prevent them from graduating, but they passed. I want to give a shout out to one graduate, Linda Osborne, who is a member of Home Church. Linda pursued a call to minister at an age when most people are pursuing a calling as grandparents. She graduated from Salem College as an adult student, and then she enrolled at Wake Forest Divinity School. It was not an easy road for Linda, but she persevered despite many obstacles, including a flood that left her temporarily homeless. Tomorrow she will receive her diploma, and next year she will be serving as a chaplain at Baptist Hospital. Hopefully, one day she will be called Rev. Osborne.

Last week we discussed Paul’s bold assertion that Jesus had fulfilled the law of Moses, and in doing so, had freed all people from the restrictions of the law. The Son of God had broken down the barriers between the Creator and humans and made it possible for all people to become sons and daughters of God. We are heirs of grace in the household of God rather than strangers and sojourners. The alienation between God and humans that is described in Genesis has been overcome through the death and resurrection of Jesus. In our lesson for today, Paul hammers home this central point by personalizing his argument. The disagreements and conflicts in the Galatian church are not abstract theology; they affect Paul personally. He writes passionately to his brothers and sisters.

Read: 4:12-20

Become Like Me:                        So far in the Letter to the Galatians, the central figure has been Jesus Christ, but in verse 12 Paul urges his audience in Galatia to become like him. It is a statement that startles the reader. We would expect him to urge the Galatians to be like Christ, like he does in other letters. Imitating Christ would fit the argument Paul has been making about Christ leading his followers out of slavery into freedom, but Paul is shifting his argument here. He has already said that Christ lived under the law and fulfilled the law, and so he does not want the Galatians to imitate Christ in that way. Instead Paul lifts himself up as an example of someone who was born under the law but now lives by faith in God’s grace. Christ was the one who makes the new life possible, but Paul is an example of someone living in that new reality.

Some folks think Paul is being arrogant by holding himself up as a model, but isn’t that what motivational speakers in our day do? Just think about all those books and lectures by people who tell you that you can be a success just like them. Thousands of people promote themselves as models of how to be a good businessman, manager, mother, coach, leader, entertainer, and so on. People also offer themselves as models to follow if you want to lose weight, overcome addictions, or have better style. We love to have heroes to emulate, and we pay people large sums of money to brag to us about how wonderful they are. I’m tempted to write a book titled “How I Got Rich Writing Self-Help Books for People Like You to Buy.”

Even though we make celebrities of self-promoters in our age, we get offended when Paul urges the Galatians to become like him. We think he is lacking in Christian humility and is saying that he is better than anyone else. Perhaps we should read his story the way Paul intended. He told the Galatians that he was a living example of someone who overcame religious fanaticism, prejudice, and violence through a spiritual encounter with Jesus Christ. Paul fought hard to break through to a vision of a new human community where love and grace would be the primary values, and he wants the Galatians to be part of that new paradigm. Unlike our modern gurus calling for “paradigm shifts,” Paul is not doing this to make himself rich or famous. The Galatians knew that Paul had been physically scarred in the effort and was hanging out with slaves and poor people, with Gentiles and sinners.

Notice that Paul does not merely tell the Galatians to become like him; he reminds them that he became like them. He lived as one of them rather than separating himself because of his ethnicity and religion. He reminds the Galatians that he ate with them, prayed with them, worshiped with them, and shared their joys and sorrows. He reminds them that they were friends who did him no wrong. He reminds them of the relationship they once had with him and with each other.

Weakness                        Paul did not arrive in Galatia with advance publicity announcing his speaking tour and book signing. The Galatians did not pay Paul large sums of money to come and speak to them so they could become devotees of Paul’s “five steps to a better life.” Nor did Paul sell the Galatians a complete line of Pauline products guaranteed to bring them “apostolic success.” No, Paul first came to the Galatians because of an illness or infirmity. We do not know which city or town he came to; nor do we know who took Paul in and cared for him. All we know is that Paul was weak and suffering when he came to the Galatians, and they cared for him.

Paul doesn’t identify the nature of his infirmity, leaving later generations a mystery that has inspired all kinds of speculation. Many preachers have assumed that this illness was a manifestation of the famous “thorn in the flesh” that he mentions in 2 Corinthians 12:7, but no one knows what Paul actually meant by that phrase. Since Paul claims that the Galatians would have torn out their own eyes to give to him, many readers have suggested that Paul’s illness involved his eyes. Some have put this together with the account of his seeing a blinding light on the road to Damascus to indicate that Paul had persistent vision problems, which could have been very painful. But this is all speculation based on scanty evidence.

Paul makes a statement about his condition that may indicate it was something more than an eye problem. He reminds the Galatians that his physical ailment was a trial for them; it “put them to the test.” He doesn’t say what the test was, but he indicates that they passed the test by accepting him into their homes. They welcomed him as an angel rather than despising him or treating him with scorn. Whatever was wrong with Paul, it is clear that many ancient people would have despised him because of his suffering. They would have mocked him, rejected him, and left him homeless. Some scholars have speculated that Paul suffered from epilepsy, which was often viewed in ancient times as caused by evil spirits. Even in our day, those who have seizures are subjected to ridicule and derision. Others have speculated that Paul had some kind of skin illness that others found disgusting.

There is another intriguing possibility that makes sense in the context of Paul’s letters. We know that Paul was often beaten, abused, and even tortured because of his preaching. He calls his scars the “marks of Jesus” because he identified his own sufferings with the scourging Jesus endured. It is possible that Paul had fled to Galatia because of the wounds he had received elsewhere. Not only would his face and body have been disfigured and horrible to look at, he would have been identified as a trouble-maker or criminal. The trial faced by the Galatians may have included the social shame of caring for someone who had been publicly rejected and cast out. We are so accustomed to viewing Paul as the great apostle and missionary that we forget he was also a victim of religious violence. Paul spent much of his life as a homeless outcast who depended on the kindness of others. Sometimes he depended on strangers to nurse him back into health.

Paul does not dwell on his own sufferings in chapter 4. He is simply reminding the Galatians that they were the ones who took him in and showed him mercy. They were like the Good Samaritan in the parable. We do not know if they were Christian when they welcomed Paul “like an angel” or if they were merely the kind of good and compassionate people who would be open to hearing the gospel. In either case, Paul found that these pagans were righteous toward a suffering human being. Rather than despising him because of his suffering and weakness, they listened to the gospel he proclaimed to them. Paul was not eloquent or physically impressive. He was not the kind of person we think of as a hero or celebrity. His body was broken and his voice was weak, but the message he brought was powerful. It is the Gospel that had the power to transform lives and give strength.

Why the Change?                        Almost as soon as he reminds the Galatians of their kindness toward him, Paul shifts tone and accuses the Galatians viewing him as an enemy rather than a friend. He writes like a jealous man who fears that his lover is being seduced away from him. He tells the Galatians that his rivals who have come from Jerusalem are not really interested in the wellbeing of the Galatians. They are using flattery and deception to try to persuade the Galatians to follow them and abandon the Gospel that Paul brought to them in his weakness. We could interpret Paul’s words as evidence of a power struggle between two apostles. Paul feels that he is losing control over his people and that another will be taking his place. However, it sounds like what Paul most fears is not a loss of authority, but a loss of relationship with the Galatians. He senses that his rivals are turning the Galatians against him. By promoting circumcision and zealousness for the law, the new missionaries were telling the Galatians that Paul was unrighteous. Paul appears to have been the object of their attack precisely because Paul chose to live like the Galatians. Reading this letter centuries later, when Paul has been named a saint, we are apt to miss the point that it was Paul who was being excluded from the Galatian church. Of course he was angry and hurt and frightened. He had a vision of a new world where Jews and Gentiles could worship together and eat together, and he had suffered in body and soul to bring this about, and now it was in danger of falling apart because of some smooth-talking fellows from Jerusalem.

Paul will not give up his relationship to the Galatians without a struggle. He uses a rather odd analogy that indicates the depth of his concern. He says that he is like a woman in childbirth before epidurals and other ways of deadening the pain. Paul is says that he is screaming in agony as he is trying to bring a new thing into the world. Jewish apocalyptic literature often used the analogy of birth pangs to described the violent upheavals that would accompany the creation of a new world order when the Messiah comes. Jesus used such imagery in his preaching, but Paul takes that idea in a new way. He describes himself as a mother in childbirth. It is not the world that is suffering birth pangs of the in-breaking kingdom of God; it is an apostle trying to bring about a transformation of individuals and a community. This is personal and local.

Paul says that he, personally, will be in agony until Christ is formed in the Galatians. This is a mixed metaphor since it sounds like Paul is having a baby in someone else. The metaphor does not work out rationally, but the emotional impact of Paul’s statement is clear. He is laboring so that the Gentile Christians in Galatia may be formed into living images of Christ. He is telling them that his anger and distress are like those of a woman during delivery. He cares deeply about them and is afraid that the new covenant community will be still born. Paul admits to being angry and perplexed by this turn of events, and he uses yet another argument to try to persuade them to stand fast in the freedom of Christ.

Read: rest of chapter 4

Hagar and Sarah                        Although the whole point of this letter is to convince the Galatians not to adopt the Jewish law, Paul uses the Torah to support his argument for an expanded vision of God’s covenant. We’ve already discussed his use of Abraham as evidence that the grace precedes the giving of the law. Here in chapter 4 he uses the family of Abraham to illustrate his point about freedom and slavery. Hagar was an Egyptian slave who bore Ishmael, and Sarah was Abraham’s wife who bore Isaac.

Paul tells us up front that he is reading the Old Testament allegorically rather than literally. This should give modern Christians permission to do the same with the Old Testament. Paul was no fundamentalist, even though fundamentalists love to quote Paul.  Allegory is a method of interpretation that allows a reader to go beyond the literal meaning of a text to discern deeper moral or spiritual truths. Paul is not interested in Hagar and Sarah themselves; he uses them as symbols of two types of relationship with God. Hagar was a slave, but Sarah was a free woman. Their sons were different, too. Paul’s colorful expression was that Ishmael was born according to the flesh, but Isaac was given miraculously to the elderly Sarah. Ishmael was born in slavery according to the will of the flesh, but Isaac was born in freedom according to the will of God’s spirit.

Paul makes the surprising claim that Hagar represents Mount Sinai, presumably because Mt. Sinai is in Egypt, the homeland of Hagar. Since Isaac was seen by Jews as the bearer of the covenant, we would expect that his mother would be associated with the mountain where Moses received the law, but Paul contradicts this idea. Sinai was only a stage on the way to freedom. Paul is acknowledging that the old covenant with Abraham led to Sinai and the giving of the law, but he denies that this was the final destination of Israel.

Paul extends his allegory further, claiming that Hagar represents the earthly Jerusalem, which was under the dominion of the Roman Empire. Paul doesn’t have a lot to say about Jerusalem, and it is doubtful he thought of it as the Holy Land or the Promised Land. Jerusalem was the city that handed Jesus over for crucifixion. For Paul, the earthly Jerusalem was a corrupt city, and its Temple was no longer the house of God. Paul was looking for a New Jerusalem, the true Zion, which would appear at the end of the age. He identifies Sarah with this heavenly Jerusalem, which he calls our mother city. This heavenly city would be a realm of perfect freedom and love, where the Messiah would rule in peace and justice. In this heavenly Jerusalem, there would be no need for a law because Christ would rule in all hearts.

Paul adds a quote from Isaiah 54 that associates Sarah with a restored Jerusalem. Interestingly, this prophecy from Isaiah follows almost immediately after the chapter on the suffering servant that Paul used to describe Jesus as the Messiah. He believed that the sufferings and death of Christ not only freed Jews and Gentiles from the slavery of the law; it also was step toward the true Jerusalem.

Conclusion:                        Paul’s argument about Hagar and Sarah may not be the most compelling in our day, but in this chapter we see Paul turning to the Torah for help in convincing people that the law of Moses was not binding for all time. He wants the Galatians to view themselves as children born of God’s promise rather than the will of the flesh. Even though they were not Jews by birth, they could be part of the new covenant through the sacrifice of the Son. As children of the promise, redeemed by Christ, the Galatians should get rid of the child of slavery. Paul repeatedly warns them not to adopt practices that divide people. Paul ends this section of Galatians with a watchword that all Christians should remember: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” This is the dramatic conclusion of his allegory of Hagar and Sarah, and it is the introduction to chapter 5, which we’ll discuss next week.

No longer Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male and female

Galatians 3:13-29  One in Christ

The Adult Bible Class of Home Moravian Church, originally broadcast May 3, 2009

Craig Atwood

Introduction:            Good morning and welcome to this weekly broadcast of the Adult Bible Class of Home Moravian Church. I hope it was a good week for you and those you love most dearly. It was a quiet week at the church. We had to shut the buildings down for three days because there was no electricity. That was all part of putting in the new heating and air conditioning system. Classes ended on Wednesday at Wake Forest and we are now in exams. For some reason, students don’t seem sympathetic to the plight of professors having to grade all of these papers and exams. Now that classes are over, I’ve been able to give some attention to deferred maintenance on our house. I’ve also started packing up my books so I can move them over to my office at Wake. Sometimes I wonder what I’ve done with my money and then I start packing books and remember. Each one of them seemed worth it at the time. I try to tell myself that there is a reason we have a library on campus.            

Curse:                        We ran out of time last week before I got to the end of the lesson, and so I’ll begin where I left off. We were talking about Paul’s assertion that it is our faith in Christ and the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives that allows us to become righteous and just. To press home his point that it is Christ who leads us into a new way of life, Paul says “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.” Paul quotes from Deuteronomy to indicate that those who died by hanging on a tree were cursed. There is evidence that in Paul’s day this verse was applied to crucifixion, which was not a Jewish form of punishment. It is possible that the opponents of Christianity used this verse to condemn those who believed in Jesus as the Messiah. They could have claimed that Jesus was cursed and abandoned by God. Paul uses this verse to shock the Galatians back to their senses. If they are going to embrace the law of Moses, then they will have to follow the whole law. They will have to view Jesus as having been cursed because of his crucifixion.

Paul uses the scandal of the cross to shock us into looking at things in a new lights. Jesus voluntarily took on the curse of the law to redeem us from the law’s curse. Paul is not rejecting the Scriptures, but is radically reinterpreting them in light of Christ’s death and resurrection. Paul viewed Jesus as the suffering servant in Isaiah 53 whose suffering and death made possible the messianic vision of the peaceable kingdom also given by Isaiah. The messianic kingdom leads through the cross.

Read 3:15-29 We continue with verse 15 of chapter 3.

Abraham’s Seed:            I have to agree with commentators who point out that this is not one of Paul’s better passages. It appears that Paul himself was a bit uncomfortable with the analogy he draws between the law and a person’s last will and testament because he states that he is going to speak in a human manner, meaning that he is talking for himself not for God. Translations obscure this by paraphrasing what Paul says. He is actually admitting that he is using an imperfect analogy to make a point, something preachers do all the time without always acknowledging the limits of their analogies. Paul says that God made a promise to Abraham and his offspring.  We call such a promise a “will” or “testament.” Paul is using a pun that works in Greek because the Greek version of the Old Testament calls the covenant a testament. This is why Christians call the Hebrew scriptures the Old Testament, by the way. First testament or original covenant would be appropriate names as well.

Paul claims that the original covenant included a promise to Abraham’s offspring, and like any will, it is still valid. Paul points out that the law of Moses was not given for another 430 years, and he insists that the law did not annul the original promise, which was based on Abraham’s trust in God. It is not a very strong argument, and Paul does not use it in Romans when he discusses Abraham and the covenant.

The second part of Paul’s argument sounds very strange to modern readers. He points out that the promise was to Abraham and his “seed” or offspring. The Greek word “spermata” is singular, as Paul says, but spermata is a collective noun, as is offspring. We might not be persuaded by Paul’s point here, but he is using a type of interpretation employed by ancient rabbis. Before the time of Paul, rabbis had connected the idea of Abraham’s seed to the promise that David’s seed would rule in Israel, and they argued that a single descendent of Abraham and David would be the Messiah. Paul simply takes the rabbinical argument to claim that the promised seed of Abraham was Jesus. Thus, Jesus, not the law, was the fulfillment of God’s covenant with Abraham.

The Law as Custodian:            This leads into the question of why God gave the law to Moses at all if the inheritance was to be granted through faith. Paul claims that the law was given to Israel because they had become sinners. You may remember that the Israelites trusted in God enough to escape slavery in Egypt. They crossed through the waters to freedom, but then they turned to idolatry. Paul implies that this was why the law was needed. The Israelites could no longer be faithful without a written law. His second point is that this law was given through intermediaries rather than directly by God. Moses was a prophet and spokesman for God, but he was not God. For centuries, rabbis had pointed to the presence of angels on Mt. Sinai as a way to elevate the majesty and awe of the giving of the law, but Paul claims that it was the angels rather than God who gave the law to Moses. In other words, the law came through several intermediaries rather than being given directly by God. It is not a very strong argument, but it can be strengthened through modern biblical study, which indicates that the law evolved over many centuries.

It is intriguing that in verse 22, Paul uses the word “scripture” instead of “law” when he claims that the written code imprisons all things in sin. You may have noticed that biblical literalists do not hold this verse up at sporting events or preach it from the airwaves. Paul recognized that the Bible be twisted to harm and harass people. The old Moravians often pointed out that even inquisitors and crusaders quoted from the Bible. Paul is not condemning Scripture or the law; he is pointing out that the Scripture shows us that all humans are subject to sin. The law reveals to us just how imperfect and flawed we really are. The law is not opposed to the promises given to Abraham, but the law could not fulfill the promise. Even though the law appears to offer a way to righteousness, we find that it highlights just how far from God we truly are.  

We like to divide the world into the righteous and the sinful, but Paul shatters that illusion. He says that the Law of Moses reveals to us the reality that we are all sinners. We are all in bondage to the laws of death and corruption. None of us can fulfill the law’s demands.

Paul offers another way of viewing the law. It functioned like a paidagogos, which is not quite the same as a pedagogue. The paidagogos was a slave who took the master’s children to school and made sure they obeyed. Once the children came of age, they were freed from the watchful eye of the paidagogos. In other words, he was like a custodian of the children and served as their disciplinarian. These are the functions the law had in Paul’s thinking. The law was given by God to preserve the children of Abraham and to keep them in line until the proper time. In other words, the Law of Moses was relative rather than absolute. It was provided for a particular time and place. Pauline Christians today should keep this argument in mind when quoting from Leviticus or Joshua. The old law served its purpose until Christ came, but the law worked by punishment and threat. Christ brings freedom.

Paul tells the Galatians that they are no longer until the curse of the old law; they have been set free by the faithfulness of Jesus. Paul implies that the world has come of age, and the old is passing away. We should read Paul’s words as a call for maturity and self-control, not as a license for bad behavior. We no longer have a disciplinary because we have come of age. We can be freed by the fears that plagued the ancient world as well as the fears that keep us imprisoned today. To live in Christ is to live as free and responsible moral agents who have internalized the fundamental principles of God’s intention for the world. Gone are the days when we need teachers to rap our knuckles or paddle our behinds. Gone is the controlling force of the law. Banish the voices that tell you that everything you do is wrong. If we are in Christ, we are free to live.

Sons and Daughters:            This brings us to one of the most important things that Paul ever wrote. Galatians 3:28 is the culmination of Paul’s whole argument thus far. He tells his audience that they are all sons of God through Christ. Today we would says sons and daughters since Paul clearly includes both males and females in this statement. You are sons and daughters of God through faith in Christ. The pious people in Paul’s day believed that God was a distant deity who had decreed laws and would preside on judgment day. Islam teaches that God has no sons. God is God and humans are humans. In contrast, Jesus claimed God as his father, and the church proclaimed Jesus as the unique Son of God. Paul goes much further and makes the provocative claim that those who place their faith in Christ also become the sons and daughters of God. You are sons and daughters of the Most High and are loved with the infinite love of God. All who believe in Christ are members of the household of God. Paul claims that the barrier between God and sinful humanity has been torn away by Jesus.

It is because we are sons and daughters of God through faith in Christ that all other barriers are torn down, too. Some scholars think that Paul may have been quoting a baptismal creed in verses 27-28. If so, it would have been the creed that he used when he baptized people in Galatia. He reminded them that they had all been baptized in Christ and clothed in Christ. He makes an allusion to the ancient practice of baptizing people nude and then clothing them in a white robe symbolizing their new life. Moravians do not baptize this way, but the pastor wears a white robe. Zinzendorf took this metaphor of being clothed in Christ and combined with Jesus’ parable of the wedding banquet to produce his beautiful hymn: The Savior’s Blood and Righteousness, my beauty is, my glorious dress.

Since President Truman integrated the Armed Forces after World War II, there has been a saying that there is only one color in the Army: green. 1900 years before that saying was invented, Paul was telling the Galatians that there is one name for the sons and daughters of God: Christ. All who have faith in Christ and are baptized in Christ are clothed in Christ. Because of this, Paul can make the bold claim that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male and female.

Slave and Free:            I wonder how much this statement shocked the original hearers. Paul has been building a case to prove to them that the division between Jew and Gentile is no longer valid in the church, but he pushes his argument further. Not only are Jews and Gentiles united through baptism as the sons and daughters of God, so are slaves and free people. Slavery was one of the harsh realities of the ancient world, and servitude marked a fundamental division in the social order. Owning slaves was a sign of power, wealth, and status. Being a slave was a sign that you were a lesser creature. Slavery defined your identity. You were unworthy of respect and you had no dignity. You were not a man or woman like other men and women. We know that there were slaves and masters in the early church, and it is clear that Paul did not simply condemn slavery as unchristian. He did something more revolutionary. He declared that in Christ there is neither slave nor free. All who are baptized in Christ have the same status as sons and daughters of God.

No matter what the world said; no matter what the law said; no matter what the powers and principalities said; no matter what the emperor said; Christ made slaves and free equal. One of the most shocking aspects of early Christianity was that slaves and masters ate together and talked together. This is why the emperor wanted to destroy this subversive religion. Though the church often ignored Paul and lost sight of this vision, his words have repeatedly shocked Christians back into faithful devotion to Christ. These words inspired Leonard Dober to offer his life to the slaves in St. Thomas. These words inspired William Wilberforce and John Woolman and David Walker and Sojourner Truth to bring down the slave system in the 19th century. These words continue to inspire Christians to recognize each other as brothers and sisters in Christ.

Male and Female:            It can be scary to shake the foundations of the world by declaring radical freedom and equality in Christ, but Paul wanted to make sure the Galatians got the point. Not only is there no division between Jew and Gentile, slave and free, there is no division between men and women. It is possible that the Galatians had been baptized with these words that Paul uses: In Christ  you are all one; there is no longer male and female. With a few exceptions, such as the radical Pietists, Christians over the centuries haven’t grasped the full import of Paul’s words here. Churches love to quote other parts of the NT that subordinate women rather than taking Galatians 3:28 seriously. It is interesting that the same churches that embrace Paul’s arguments against circumcision and preach that the just shall live by faith lose their courage when it comes to 3:28. Rather than recognizing this as the climax of Paul’s argument in Galatians, they jump right over it to other letters they like better. In doing so they miss the whole point of Galatians. They become just like those people was warning the Galatians about. They reject the freedom of Christ and want to go back to the old ways.

Paul is telling the Galatians and us that the followers of Christ are living in a new world. We have one foot in the kingdom of God even though we are living in a corrupt and sinful society. Those who are in Christ are equal in Christ. Although even Paul made compromises with the world in which he lived, he recognized that Christ changed everything. Even the most basic division between human beings, even the oldest form of oppression, has been atoned for by Jesus. We are no longer under the curse of the law or under the curse of racism, nationalism, or sexism. Who would have thought that Paul would write such a thing?

I know what some of you are thinking. Why should we take this verse more seriously than those verses in Timothy and Ephesians that subordinate women to men? Why should this verse be our guiding principle, our touchstone, and our rule of faith? Part of the reason is that this verse is not just an isolated statement that Paul throws in. It sums up his whole argument about being justified in Christ. Galatians 3:28 describes the new reality of being clothed in Christ. It even makes sense as to why Paul was so reluctant to reintroduce a ritual that marked only men as part of the covenant. Baptism is for men and women.

Galatians 3:28 also makes sense as a summary of the atonement because Paul himself writes about the women who shared his ministry: some were the heads of churches, some were prophets and apostles. It makes sense that we highlight this verse above others because Jesus welcomed a Samaritan woman into the household of God and let Mary sit at his feet. It makes sense that we live by this verse because the first ones to proclaim the good news of Easter were women. Paul tells us that Christians are called to live according to the spirit of God that unites us rather than focus on the flesh that divides us. Gal. 3:28 makes sense because we are no longer under the curse of the law that subordinated women and enslaved the poor. It makes sense because whenever the church has rejected this message, it lost sight of Christ and turns to violence and oppression rather than love and liberation.

Conclusion:                        We’ve come to the end of our time on the radio this morning, and I thank you for listening. Next week we’ll continue our study of Galatians and examine what Paul has to say about slavery and freedom.

Galatians 3:1-14

The Righteous Will Live by Faith: Galatians 3:1-14

The Adult Bible Class of Home Moravian Church, originally broadcast April 26, 2009

Craig Atwood

Introduction                        Good morning and welcome to the Adult Bible Class of Home Moravian Church on this second Sunday in the season of Easter. I want to give a shout out to Katie Pfohl who is now 101 years old. I first met Katie when I was the chaplain at Salem College. She remembers how my great-grandfather used to bring milk and butter in his horse-drawn cart to Salem when she was a girl. It is hard to imagine the changes she has seen over the past century. Things are changing here at Home Church. We’re worshiping in the fellowship hall now while the sanctuary is being remodeled. I’ve never seen the fellowship hall look so nice. This will the last Sunday that Pastor Harris will be with us until October, and we wish him well on his sabbatical. Scott, Christy, and Carl will be preaching over the summer, and we wish them well, too. I hope it was a good week for you. A high point of the week was having lunch with Jimmy Carter. It was nice to hear him describe himself as a Sunday School teacher. I’ve been grading papers this week, and so I may not be as lucid today as normally. I think I’ve read over 500 pages of student work in the last two weeks. Thankfully, some of the papers were gems. One of my students did his senior project presentation on Thursday night. He has been working in a homeless shelter and decided to talk with the homeless about their understandings of God. It was amazing what some of those men have to teach us all about faith, love, and hope in the midst of hardships.

This week we are continuing our study of Galatians. We’ll be looking closely at the first part of chapter three.

Read 3:1-14

Before your eyes:                        Paul is clearly frustrated and angry with the Galatians. We will never know the whole story about the church in Galatia, but I think we can safely assume that these people were precious to him. If Paul did not care so much for them, I doubt he would have been so exasperated. That is one of the paradoxes of love. Sometimes we angry because we really do care about someone and their welfare. Paul had given a lot of attention to the building of the congregation in Galatia, and he had probably been proud of the way they had lived out the gospel, but now he feels that all of this work is threatened.

Paul simply can’t understand what has been going on in his absence, and he asks the Galatians if someone has bewitched them. This is the only time this word appears in the New Testament. It normally refers to someone giving the “evil eye” or casting a malevolent spell. Throughout the history of Christianity, there have been periods when fear of malevolent forces erupted in violence, such as the period of witch burnings in Europe. It is helpful to recognize that this in the only reference to bewitchment in the NT, and we should not magnify fears about witchcraft. Even more important, we should recognize that Paul is talking about the temptation to use religion to divide people. Rather than worrying about bewitchment, we should be concerned about how we use religious symbols and authority to hurt people.

Christi Crucified:                        Paul contrasts the evil eye with the way Christ was presented to the Galatians as one crucified. The word Paul uses is prographo, which can mean “written beforehand.” This may indicate that Paul had used the Psalms and prophets in the OT to explain the death of Jesus to the Galatians. Or the word could mean that he had preached on this theme so much that the Galatians could visualize the crucifixion for themselves. That Christ was crucified before their eyes. Many centuries later, Zinzendorf talked about the need for preachers to “paint” Christ before the congregation. It is possible that Paul was referring to a type of mystical experience in which the Galatians had seen Christ. Such visionary experiences are well-documented in the history of Christianity.

Though we do not know for sure what the Galatians had experienced through Paul’s preaching, it is clear that the image of Christ as crucified was central to their life as Christians. This does not diminish the importance of the resurrection in Paul’s theology, but it is interesting that he does not talk about the resurrection in Galatians. It was important for the Galatians to remember the cost of their redemption. He warns the Galatians that if they adopt the law, then Christ will have died in vain. In secular society we use similar language when we say that we do not want our soldiers to have died in vain. You’ve seen bumper stickers that say “If you value your freedom, thank a Veteran” which is a good sentiment. But more than gratitude is needed. We should also make sure that we do not give up the freedoms for which others died. Paul believed that the Galatians were in danger of giving up the spiritual freedom they had found in Christ and this would nullify his sacrifice.

Spirit:                        Paul is not content to talk only about the work of Christ; he reminds the Galatians that they also received the Holy Spirit through their faith in Jesus. Paul closely connects the work of Jesus Christ with the reception of the Spirit. In Paul’s writings, the Spirit is always associated with the Father and the Son, which is why we have the doctrine of the Trinity here. He is reminding the Galatians that they had already experienced God’s Spirit at work in their lives and in their church. Once again, Paul frustrates historians because he does not tell the Galatians what they already know. He merely asks them to remember what had happened when they believed in Christ.

It is possible that Paul is describing the gift of the Spirit in the waters of baptism. Or he may be talking about a Pentecostal event when the Spirit was poured out on the Galatians with signs and wonders. We have descriptions of such experiences in the Book of Acts and Paul’s other letters, and in verse 5 he mentions works of power or miracles. Whatever happened, we can safely assume that the reception of the Spirit was a life-changing experience that confirmed the faith of the individuals involved and united them in an intimate community of faith.

Some churches today place a great emphasis on dramatic displays of the Spirit, but many times those expressions of the Spirit lead to conflict and division rather than harmony. Other churches downplay the Spirit so much that it seems to be little more than the ghost of idea. In many historic Protestant churches, the Spirit is talked about, but rarely experienced, and we have trouble understanding Paul’s argument here. Richard Hays, in the Interpreters Bible, points out that modern churches may lose more than our appreciation for Paul. “Unless they have a living experience of the power of the Spirit, they are likely to be acutely susceptible to various non-gospels that seek to define their identity on the basis of race or nation or gender or economic class or some other marker of social status. For such communities, the text of Gal. 3:1-5 can only stand as a tantalizing glimpse of a living spiritual experience to which the gospel beckons them.” (p. 254)

Faith and Spirit:                        Paul knows that the Galatians received the Spirit and were transformed into a church of Jesus Christ. The question he asks them is not whether, but how. How did they receive the seal of the Spirit?  What transformed their lives? Was it by observing the Law or was it through faith in the crucified Messiah? The answer, Paul knew, was that they received the Spirit through the Gospel. The phrase he uses is very hard to translate and scholars disagree over whether he is focusing on the Galatians’ belief in the message or the message itself. We should not separate the message and its reception. The message of the cross is life changing only when people believe it and trust in it.

This leads up to Paul’s crucial point. Why would the Galatians start with Spirit and end in flesh? By flesh, he is making a pun on circumcision, which is lost in some translations. He accuses the Galatians of reversing the arc of the history of salvation. The OT prophets pointed to a day when the Spirit of God would be poured out on all flesh. Under the old covenant, obedience to the law of Moses might (hopefully) lead to the gift of the Spirit and the blessings of God, but the Galatians already have the blessings and the Spirit.  If they had received the Spirit without binding themselves through circumcision, why go back to an earlier understanding? It would be like Americans having won a revolution going back to a monarchy; or having written a Bill of Rights, allowing the government to violate those rights.

Suffering:            Verse 4 has posed difficulties for translators and interpreters. Paul uses the word Pascho, which means either experienced or suffered. The ancient commentators interpreted Paul as saying that the Galatians had suffered much because of their faith in Christ, but many modern translations say that they had experienced much. The question is whether Paul is talking about the experience of the Holy Spirit and accompanying acts of power or if he is introducing a new idea of suffering. I think he is probably talking about things the Galatians have suffered because of their faith in Jesus.

Paul doesn’t go into detail, but we can assume that the decision to believe in Jesus meant a radical change in the lives of the people he was writing to. Those who were Jews would have been expelled from the synagogue and treated as traitors to the covenant. Those who were pagans would have broken relations with friends and separated themselves from many aspects of their society. We are so accustomed to Christianity being the social norm that we forget that many people in the world today suffer because of baptism. Even if none of the Galatians had suffered physically, they experienced the suffering that comes whenever a person changes their identity and way of living. They also experienced in their own minds and spirits the suffering of Christ. But it was worth it because they also received the Spirit of Christ and experienced salvation. They experience new life. Paul begs them not to render their own suffering meaningless by going back to old ideas.

Abraham                          After this impassioned opening, Paul draws on his training as a Pharisee to try to persuade the Galatians from the Torah itself that his view of the law is correct. He makes an argument that he will refine further in his letter to the Romans. He writes like an ancient rabbi, playing texts against each other. He portrays Scripture itself speaking and pronouncing a blessing on Abraham. Paul shrewdly goes back to the beginning of Israel and the covenant; back to the father of the covenant people. There is little doubt that his opponents were using Abraham in their argument for circumcision since it was Abraham who was circumcised in Genesis 17. But Paul goes further back and quotes Gen. 15:6, which says: “Abraham believed the LORD and he reckoned it to him as righteousness.”

For Paul, Abraham is the father of the faith, not simply the father of a nation. Paul offered a radical reinterpretation of the story of Abraham and the covenant. The important things were not a promised land or progeny. The true meaning of God’s promise is found in Genesis 12:3 and 22:18 where God promises that all of the nations of the world will be blessed through Abraham. Paul wants the Galatians to know that by faith they are descendents of Abraham, too. They are not descendents through birth. Circumcision will not make them children by adoption. They are descendents of Abraham through faith in Jesus Christ. It is Christ who brought them into the new covenant of grace.

Curse of the Law?                        This leads into what one scholar calls “one of the most difficult passages anywhere in his letters” (Hays, 257).  There are two major difficulties for translators and interpreters alike. The first is that those who live by the law are cursed by the law, which seems to turn the teaching of the Bible upside down. Paul loves paradox and shocking language, but this passage has been particularly hard for people to accept. How can someone be cursed by observing the law? Martin Luther and others argued that Paul was claiming that the law reveals to us that we cannot observe the law. Our efforts to live righteously are doomed to failure because of human sin. Thus we feel we are cursed by God because we are unable to be righteous. Luther based his interpretation of Paul on his own experience of trying to live perfectly as a monk. The fact that the Mosaic law provides for forgiveness and atonement did not abolish the existential reality that we cannot fulfill the demands of the law any more than the sacrament of penance brought peace to Luther’s soul. However, many scholars think Luther overstated the case, and that he was harder on the law of Moses than Paul was. The phrase Paul uses to describe those living under probably refers to those who define themselves according to the law. Paul does not condemn the Law, but he does tell the Galatians that the Law itself includes a curse on those who fail to observe the law. Paul urges the Galatians to avoid the issue of blessings and curses based on the law entirely by relying on faith in Christ. We should not read this to say that the law itself is a curse or that Judaism is a curse. Paul is saying that the law pronounces a curse on those who do not follow it, and this is the curse that Christ saves us from.

The Righteous Shall Live by Faith                        Here in Galatians and again in Romans, Paul lifts out a line from the prophet Habakkuk to summarize his point. Since the law cannot justify people before God, the truly righteous will live by faith. Notice that Paul does not contrast righteousness and faith; it is by living in faith that we are made righteous before God. Paul unites the concepts of life, faith, and righteousness. It is our faith in God’s promises and the work of Christ that allows us to live fully and freely in the world. It is our faith in Christ and the experience of the Holy Spirit that allows us to become righteous and just. Faith is life-giving. Rather than seeking salvation through observance of the law, salvation comes through Christ.

Paul does not go into detail on this point. In fact, it appears that he is reminding the Galatians of what they already. Some scholars speculate that verses 13-14 are actually part of a very ancient Christian creed. “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.” In 2 Cor. 5:21 Paul went further and said that God “made him to be sin who knew no sin.” This line remains so shocking that every time Zinzendorf quoted it in his sermons, censors tried to remove it. I’ve quoted this verse in my writings, and every proof-reader thinks I’ve made a mistake. How could Jesus have been made a curse or sin?

Paul quotes from Deuteronomy again to indicate that the death of Jesus was cursed according to the law. It is possible that the opponents of Christianity had used this verse to condemn those who worshiped Jesus as the Messiah. It was not simply that Jesus had failed to reclaim the throne of David, but the way he died was evidence that he was abandoned by God in the eyes of many. Paul may have this argument in his former life, but now he takes it and uses it to shock the Galatians back to their senses. If they are going to embrace the law of Moses by being circumcised, then they will have to view Jesus as having been cursed because of his crucifixion.

Paul uses the scandal of the cross to shock us into a different way of understanding our lives. Yes, Jesus voluntarily became a curse according to the law of Moses precisely to fulfill that law and redeem us from the curse. He took on the curse of the law and in doing so made it possible for Gentiles and Jews alike to live in a new spirit; a new reality. Jesus is the suffering servant in Isaiah 53 who became the scapegoat for the sins of the nation, but his suffering and death make possible the messianic vision of the prophet Isaiah. Paul extends Isaiah’s vision to include all people in God’s saving work in Christ.

Conclusion:            Paul reminds the Galatians that they are part of this new covenant through faith in the crucified Messiah. They have received the Spirit of Christ and he warns them not to give up that new freedom and new way of life by reverting back to old forms of condemnation and curses. Perhaps one reason we do not experience the Spirit in our lives and congregations today is because we are trying to live by the law instead of living by faith in Christ. 

Justification by Faith

Justified in Christ – Galatians 2:15-21

Adult Bible Class of Home Moravian Church, originally broadcast April 19, 2009

Introduction:            Good morning and welcome to the Adult Bible Class of Home Moravian Church on this first Sunday of Easter. It is a shame that we generally feel a spiritual letdown after Easter, although there are churches that observe the tradition of holy laughter on this day. It is certainly understandable that we are tired this week, especially those Moravians who spent every night in worship during Holy Week, but Easter is not supposed to be the ending climax of a divine drama. It is the beginning of a new life. We do not proclaim our Easter faith just with our songs on Sunday; we proclaim it with our lives every day. Easter is a yearly affirmation of the extraordinary notion that the future does not have to be determined by the injustice of the past. Easter calls us to live without fear of death or fear of failure. Rather than retreating to the comfort of our homes and jobs, Easter calls us to be engaged in the world around us.

There are several things I want to make you aware of in the life of the church and the community. Beginning today, worship at Home Church will be in the Fellowship Hall until the sanctuary renovation is complete. We are putting in a new heating and air conditioning system and refurbishing the pews and floors in the sanctuary. Many Home Church members are participating in special summer projects as part of our “Finding God in the Other Place” program. Pastor Harris will begin his sabbatical on May 1, and will be away for five months. Most of the Sunday School classes have been cancelled for the summer, but the Adult Bible Class will continue to meet. Next Friday and Saturday there will be a major meeting of the New Baptist Covenant at Wake Forest University featuring President Jimmy Carter and Maya Angelou. It is free and open to the public. Details are available on the WFU website. And the biggest news item is that my daughter Sarah now has her drivers license. She’ll be driving me to Raleigh after today’s lesson. We’re planning to join a group from Raleigh Moravian on mission trip to Costa Rica this summer.

Review:                        We are studying the book of Galatians this spring, and we left off before Easter with Paul telling the Galatians about a time that he publicly opposed the apostle Peter in Antioch. Peter had endorsed Paul’s mission to the Gentiles and had even decided that most of the dietary laws of Judaism were no longer valid, but he wavered in his commitment to these principles. When followers of the apostle James came to Antioch, Peter decided to eat with them rather than eat with the Gentiles in the church. Paul recognized that this simple act was a rejection of the gospel itself, and he confronted Peter. It was a dramatic and defining moment in the early church, but it would have been forgotten by history if Paul had not included it in his letter to the Galatians. He mentions it because he believes that the Galatians are in danger of going back to a pre-Easter understanding of God. We’ll pick up the story at verse 14 of chapter 2.

Read: 2:14 to end.

Quotation Marks:                        For centuries, scholars have disagreed over where to put the quotation marks in Paul’s account of his confrontation with Peter. Ancient Greek did not have quotation marks, and it is not clear where Paul is talking to Peter and where he is talking to the Galatians. Some think this entire section was part of his speech to Peter in Antioch, but others think the quotation ended with verse 14. Naturally, there are many who put the ending quotation marks in the middle of the passage. I suspect that Paul would be surprised by the notion of quotation marks at all. He was not trying to record precisely what he said to Peter and distinguish that from what he was saying to the Galatians. He was remembering what he had said to the chief of the apostles as a way to communicate something vital to the Galatians. He is speaking to them throughout this passage, and confronting them the same way he confronted Peter.

It often shocks people to hear Paul call Gentiles “sinners” here. In fact, most English translations of this book put sinners in quotation marks to make it an ironic statement, but it is not clear that Paul was speaking ironically. He was talking from the perspective in which he grew up. Those who observed God’s law given to Moses were the righteous; those who did not were sinners. Gentiles, by definition were sinners because they stood outside of the law. It is quite likely that in Paul’s household growing up, the word “Gentile” was used as an insult. You may remember how David called Goliath “an uncircumcised dog.” Some of you may have grown up in households where certain racial terms were used as insults. Here in Galatians, Paul is recalling a time when he and Peter viewed Gentiles as sinners by definition.

Paul reminds Peter (and the people in Galatia) that he was born a Jew, and he addresses the ethnic question of whether there is a chosen race uniquely loved by God. Paul uses a phrase that is similar those we still use. People talk about being a “born Moravian” or a “cradle Episcopalian” to distinguish themselves from those who joined the church voluntarily. Typically such phrases indicate a sense of ownership that others do not share. Those who were born in the household of faith, so to speak, cannot fully understand some things. Indeed, there are songs and rituals we learn as children, such as jumping slightly on the last verse of “Jesus Makes My Heart Rejoice.” This gives a sense of shared ethos that newcomers might have difficulty with. The problem is when we assume that a certain upbringing or identity means that we are righteous and others are not.

Paul shares many of the assumptions of Peter, but he also recognizes that Christ has radically transformed the human relationship to God. He and Peter are not Gentile sinners, he says, but neither are they Jews in the way that they once were. Paul tells Peter that they both know that they have been justified to God through Christ, not through their observance of the law. Even though they are descendents of Abraham and sons of the covenant, it is not the covenant that has justified them before God. It is Christ, and this new reality must be lived out in the church.

Not Justified by the Law:                        This is the radical insight that Paul had after his mystical encounter with the risen Christ. It is a new world for Paul. Notice that he never says that the law of Moses is bad or wrong, but he does say that it is inadequate. Even if a person could observe the whole law, it would fail to justify a person to God. This was the idea that inspired Luther to leave the monastery, burn the law book of the Catholic Church, defy the pope, and take a stand 1500 years after Paul. These verses are the Magna Carta of Christian freedom, and they continue to speak to the church of the 21st century.  I hope you will ponder how these words apply in your life and in your church.

Unfortunately, Paul’s statements have often been used to justify anti-Semitism. Many preachers have claimed that Paul is rejecting Judaism here and asserting that Christianity is the only true religion. They preach that Jews have been rejected because of the law. What this does is turn Paul’s statement completely on its head. Many Christians claim to be righteous and that Jews are “sinners.” In the Middle Ages, Christian governments instituted laws that segregated Jews and Christians, requiring Jews to wear a yellow star. Jews in Spain were forced to convert to Christianity or leave the country in 1492. In the 1700s Zinzendorf publicly defended Jews from the common accusation that they were cursed by God and untrustworthy. I am sure that Paul would have been horrified to learn that his words in Galatians have been used to justify deadly persecution. It is important for us to recognize that Paul was not attacking Jews; he was expanding people’s understanding of God.

Justified                        Paul states emphatically that we are made right with God through Christ and not through any law. There have been lots of sermons and books written about Paul’s psychology and his failure to justify himself before God through observance of the law, but Paul never says that he found the law of Moses to be burdensome. In Galatians, he tells that the problem was that his zeal for the law had led him to persecute those who followed Jesus. He learned that even a good law can lead to injustice and violence.

Paul says that we are “justified by faith,” and this became one of the key slogans of the Reformation. Today, though, we use the word justification in a negative sense. You give a justification for something you’ve done, often something you shouldn’t have done. We ask people to justify their actions. That is not what Paul is talking about. Paul is talking about how we made right with God. Paul is talking about how we come into right relationship with God and the world. Paul reminded Peter and the Galatians that they were made right with God through the faithfulness of Jesus. In other words, our righteousness depends on God’s action for us.

Moravian Theology:            The old Moravians taught that a few things are essential in Christianity. First is that there is a creator. The second is that there is a redeemer or savior. And the third is that there is a spirit who blesses us and makes us holy. Creation, redemption, and sanctification are all the work of God, according to Luke of Prague. God creates, God redeems, and God blesses. Humans do not create themselves, save themselves, or make themselves holy. What is essential for humans to do is to respond to God’s work in faith, love, and hope. God no longer requires animal sacrifices or temple observances. The dietary rules and purity laws no longer apply to those who were made right with God through Christ. Incidentally, this includes the laws in Leviticus that are the source of controversy in our day. The old Moravians believed that Christ had set them free from the laws of fear and death.

This need not mean that they rejected the need for Christians to live morally or do good deeds. Unlike Martin Luther, they taught that faith must be completed in love. To be justified by faith in Christ means that we seek to live as Christ instructed and to be filled with the love of Christ. We misinterpret Paul here if we think he is condemning morality or works of love. What he is trying to do is to keep the Galatians focused on what is essential rather than binding themselves to an old covenant or creating new burdens. The problem is that those who believe they are justified by the law often use the law to create divisions and barriers.

Prophetic:                        Paul is writing in the tradition of Hebrew prophets, like Micah and Amos, who rejected the notion that observance of religious rituals absolves someone from the requirements of justice and righteousness. A few years ago we were observing our anniversary here at Home Church, but the assigned lesson for the day was Amos 5:21-24 which begins with God saying “I hate, I despise your feasts and take no delight in your solemn assemblies.” That’s not what you want to hear for an anniversary communion, and I’m afraid I read it with too much vigor, which scared people. The point Amos was trying to make was that God is far more interested in justice and righteousness than in religious festivals and sacrifices. That is a message we should listen to whenever we are in church.

Jesus repeatedly made the point that God requires justice and mercy, not strict adherence to purity laws. Jesus was not rejecting Judaism; he was teaching us to focus on what is essential rather fixating on outward expressions of rectitude. Paul was drawing on this prophetic tradition in his letter to the Galatians. It is clear from the corpus of his writings that he believed that Christians are obligated to be just, moral, and merciful. That was not in dispute. What he objected to was the tendency of people to set up legalistic religious rules and impose them on others. Such rules are used primarily to divide or oppress people. Paul objected to what sociologists call religiosity or what we might call the masks of piety.

Ultimately, Paul says, this type of legalistic religiosity would make the death of Jesus meaningless. If Gentiles can be justified to God through the Jewish law, then they should just become Jews and forget about Christ. Nothing would have been changed in the world if the old covenant could fulfill the promise given to Abraham that all nations will be blessed through him.

Living in Christ:                        Paul makes a very bold claim in this chapter. He says that he has been crucified with Christ. It is hard for us today to appreciate the shocking nature of that claim. We have grown so accustomed to the image of Christ hanging on the cross that we forget that crucifixion was a horrifying punishment intended to humiliate the victim. The crucifixion of Jesus was one of the most shocking aspects of the Christian story, but Paul identifies with the crucified Christ. He died to his old life of religious fanaticism and zealotry. Paul endured shame and rejection from his own people, just as Jesus. He put to death the need to exalt himself by abusing others. Paul found his freedom, and he wants to preserve freedom for others.

Paul then makes the even bolder claim that Christ now lives in him. This line in Galatians is so central to Moravian theology that we include it in our baptism liturgy. When we name persons as a beloved children child of God we remind them and ourselves that we should not live according to our distorted egos or the expectations of our society. Christ should live in us and the life that we live on this earth should be lived by faith in the Son of God. This is our true identity and our one true obligation. We do not have to meet anyone’s expectations other than those of our true Lord and Bridegroom. We are not justified by our jobs or where we live or who we know or what we wear. We are not justified by our degrees or our incomes or our style or what we eat or what we drive. We are justified by faith in Christ.

We cannot devise a list of rules and laws that will mark as righteous and good; we have to be transformed from the inside of out. We have to let Christ remake us in his image, and in doing so we will find our true destiny. If we are crucified with Christ, if we nail to the cross all of the oppressive weight of the obligations that we let others place on us and all of the shame and guilt we place on ourselves, we can be free. If we are crucified with Christ, we can let go of our selfish ambition, our need for affirmation, our desire for attention, and our craving for security. We can die to all of the masks and false images of ourselves that others create for us, and we can live as free servants of Christ. We can know the joy of being a beloved child of God.  Paul is inviting you to let the spirit of Christ dwell within you.

A New Society:            Think of the thousands of ways we build barriers between people and try to justify our sinful divisions. Many of you remember what it was like to go shopping here in Winston-Salem and see separate water fountains. Many of you remember what it was like to have separate neighborhoods for different ethnic groups. Violations of the social rules that separated rich and poor were met with stern rebukes.

Paul tells us that Christ has died so that we can be united in faith, love, and hope. There are so many rules and restrictions we devise that keep us from living into the fullness of God’s love, but Paul says that Christ abolished the laws of fear and shame. We are not justified by the purity of our lives, by our asceticism, by our observation of fast days, by our public prayers or private fears, by our lovefeasts or hymns, by our condemnation of others or our commendation of ourselves. We are justified by faith in Christ whose death and resurrection is the fulcrum by which we can move the world toward justice and peace. This is the heart of the gospel.

We are out of time, but we will continue to examine Paul’s letter to the Galatians next week. 

Peter and Paul

Galatians 2:1-14: Paul Rebukes Peter, Mary not present

The Adult Bible Class of Home Moravian Church, originally broadcast April 5, 2009

Craig D. Atwood

Introduction:                       Good morning and welcome to the Adult Bible Class of Home Moravian Church on this beautiful Palm Sunday. I hope it was a good week for you and those you love. Watching the people in North Dakota laboring for their neighbors has been inspiring. I am happy to report that the Home Church Art Show was a huge success. Thousands of dollars were raised for Sunnyside Ministry. Today begins Holy Week, and you are all invited to services each night at 7:00 in the sanctuary. Next Sunday morning at 6:30 we’ll have our sunrise service in which we remember our brothers and sisters who have gone before us and profess our faith in God’s grace. There is so much senseless violence and destruction in our world, it is easy to despair, but we can gather to proclaim the Good news and lift our eyes to a brighter future.

It’s been a rough couple of weeks for my family. I want to thank all of the people who came to the funeral, sent notes, and gave words of encouragement after the death of my nephew, Erik. I want to thank Dr. Moore for doing the lesson last week on such short notice. My whole family would like to give a word of thanks to Rev. David Merritt, the pastor of Hope Church for helping us endure an ordeal we never thought we would face. When I was a young minister, I assisted in an Episcopalian funeral. At the end of the service, the priest leaned over and whispered, “liturgy works.” It is true. There is something powerful about having rituals already prepared for those times when grief overthrows your mind. There must have been 70 people playing in the band for Erik, and the music brought us some comfort. One of my students recently presented his Senior Project on the theme of God and humanity suffering. He used 20th century German theologians and American pop music to discuss the role that music plays in helping us face suffering, despair, and death. Shortly before 3 p.m. this Friday in the sanctuary at Home Church we will read those Jesus words of dereliction: Eloi, eloi, lama sabbathani and wait until Sunday for the answering reply: The Lord is Risen!

Peter and Paul:        Today we are continuing our study of Paul’s Letter to the Galatians. I’ll be reading from the first part of chapter 2, which includes one of the few times in the New Testament that we see conflict between the apostles. The argument between Paul and Peter presented in this chapter has disturbed Christian theologians for centuries. Sts. Jerome and Augustine disagreed strongly over how to interpret this conflict with one of them arguing that Peter and Paul were play-acting rather than really fighting and the other asserting that this was a genuine disagreement. This was just one of many things that the two saints fought about. Medieval theologians spent a great deal of intellectual energy trying to prove that Jerome and Augustine were play-acting, and that Peter and Paul were play-acting. You’d think that the church was a dramatics society.

I think we are all disturbed when our authorities, our fathers and mothers, our saints, and teachers are revealed to be imperfect humans. We want them to be perfect, but the fact is that even apostles and saints sometimes make bad decisions. Rather than being disturbed by this, we can take comfort from these ancient disagreements as we struggle to make sense of the gospel in our time. We, imperfect humans, will be the authorities and saints for those who come after us. We have to do the best we can with the information we have, but we will make mistakes. Hopefully we will learn from them.

Read 2:1-14

Jerusalem Council?             Paul must have been a Moravian at heart because he addresses a doctrinal controversy by telling a story. He tells the Galatians about going to Jerusalem to meet with the pillars of the early church: Peter, James, and John. These were the chief among the apostles and had known Jesus, but Paul tells us that he was not awed by their authority but he wanted to come to an agreement with them. By the time he met with them, he had been preaching about the resurrection of Jesus for fourteen years, and his work among the Gentiles was generating controversy. Paul took along two co-workers, one of whom (Barnabas) was a Jew who traced his ancestry back to Levi. The other (Titus) was a Gentile who had been baptized in Jesus.

Scholars debate whether this meeting Paul is talking about is the famous “Jerusalem Council” described in Acts 15 or perhaps an earlier meeting discussed in Acts 11. Paul’s description of the meeting sounds similar to the Jerusalem Council, which was called specifically to address concerns over Paul’s evangelism. But there are some key differences in the two accounts. The meeting in Acts 15 sounds like a church council, but Paul says he met in private with Peter, James, and John. It is possible that he did meet privately with them and reached an agreement that was then discussed with others in the Jerusalem Church. That still happens, by the way. A committee has been meeting privately to discuss ways to improve our church’s administrative structure. They have agreed on a plan, which we will then discuss at synod. Fourteen years later, there may be different versions about what happened.

There is another difference between Paul’s account of the meeting in Jerusalem and that described in Acts. The Acts account says that the Gentiles agreed to some dietary restrictions, namely that they would not eat blood or meat that had been sacrificed to idols. Paul doesn’t say anything about such an agreement. I think that is because that wasn’t central to his argument. He wanted the Galatians to know that the pillars of the church approved of what he was preaching in Galatia and that they recognized his work as a fruit of the Holy Spirit. The pillars of the church accepted Titus as a brother in Christ even though he was not circumcised. 

Circumcision                        It is very hard for modern Christians to get excited about the topic of circumcision, especially on Palm Sunday. Paul won this argument in the early church and it did not become an issue for Christians again until the 20th century when American physicians decided that circumcision would improve the health of male babies. There continues to be a huge medical debate about this, which you can read on the Internet if you are interested. I’ve got nothing to say about that. The modern debate about possible hygienic benefits or psychological damage of circumcision have nothing to do with the controversy Paul is talking about.

Paul is specifically addressing circumcision as a feature of Judaism, but circumcision has been practiced by many other peoples. Anthropologists look at circumcision as a form of tribal marking, much like tattooing. For the most part circumcision is a religious ritual that marks a boy or man as a member of a tribe. In many tribes, it is a puberty rite, but in others it is associated with marriage. What we need to understand when reading Galatians is that the Greeks and Romans viewed circumcision as a barbaric practice. If you look at classical sculptures, you’ll notice that the classical male ideal meant that the body was whole and unscarred. Circumcision was a Jewish practice that was unacceptable to most Gentiles, even those who were attracted to Judaism. Gentiles who worshiped the one God and tried to live according to his teaching, but who were not circumcised were called often called “God-fearers.” Titus had probably been such a God-fearer before he became a Christian.

Throughout the Old Testament, circumcision was seen as a sign of the covenant, a way to identify who belonged to God and who did not. According to Genesis, God instructed Abraham to circumcise all of the men in his household, especially his sons Ishmael and Isaac, as a way to seal the covenant God was making with Abraham and his descendents. Circumcision was a sign that a boy was in the covenant with God; that he was part of the Chosen People; and that he would be raised according to the Torah. It was a mark that could not be removed (except through rather painful surgery – ouch) and it would remind him that he belonged to the Lord God. All of his actions should reflect a right relationship with God. By the time of Paul, circumcision was a powerful symbol of Jewishness and obedience to the Law of God.

Paul knew all of this. As a Pharisee, he would have known stories of Jews who had been martyred because of their obedience to the Torah, especially the rite of circumcision. Remember, Paul tells us that he had been zealous for the law. Before his encounter with the resurrected Christ, I am sure that Paul would have insisted that circumcision was essential to pleasing God. Two decades after his conversion, Paul still identified circumcision as the sign and seal of the old covenant. Those who chose to be circumcised were obliged to observe the law, but Paul will argue that Christians are living under a new covenant.

Titus               The big question that was disrupting the unity of the church in Paul’s day was whether Gentiles who wanted to be in the church of Christ should be circumcised. Before you say, “no,” think for a minute about the arguments Paul’s opponents probably made. Keep in mind that all of the first Christians were Jewish and they believed that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah. Jesus’ heavenly Father was the Lord God who had made a covenant with Abraham. Jesus’ teachings were grounded in the Jewish Scriptures. Doesn’t it make sense that the followers of Jesus should be Jews? Shouldn’t they take on the sign of the covenant decreed by God?

Paul begins his argument by telling the Galatians that this was not a new debate; it went back to the origins of the Gentile mission. Paul tells the Galatians about his friend and co-worker, Titus, who went with him to the Jerusalem Council. We don’t know a lot about Titus or any of Paul’s co-workers, but it is important to recognize that Paul had friends and companions. It is easy to forget that he did not create the early church on his own; it was a collaborative effort, and Paul readily gives credit to those who worked with him. Paul doesn’t tell us why he took Titus and Barnabas to Jerusalem, but it seems likely that it was because one was Jewish and the other Gentile. They went to discuss issues related to the presence of Gentiles in the church.

Titus was not Jewish. He was a Gentile who was a pagan before he became a Christian. Titus had to learn a whole new perspective on the world and his role in the world, and he was so enthusiastic about his way of life that he worked to convert others to the “Way.” We can assume that Titus was with Paul in Antioch, which was one of the most important centers of Christianity for the first six centuries of the church. It was in Antioch that the followers of Jesus were first called “Christians,” and so it is likely that Titus was one of the first Gentiles to be called a Christian.

False Brethren:        Paul reports that there were “false brethren” in Jerusalem who were spreading stories about the Christians in Antioch. The term he uses indicates that these were members of the church who were not true to the brotherhood. They pretended to love their brothers and sisters when they were really looking for ways to hurt them. Paul accuses the false brethren of “spying” on them, which probably means exactly what it sounds like it meant.

There is something pathetic about religious zealots being so consumed by fear of impurity that they would spy on someone in the baths, but similar things still happen in churches. Behind the masks of piety and propriety, people spy on their brothers and sisters hoping to find evidence of sin or heresy. Sometimes they find what they are looking for, but more often they simply sow discord and suspicion where love and joy should prevail.

In this case, the spies learned the truth. Titus was not circumcised. Rather than bend to their will or hide the truth, Paul took Titus with him to discuss the Gentile mission with Peter, John, and James. Paul says that Titus was welcomed by the pillars of the church. For Paul, this was a decisive moment in the history of the church, and he reminds the Galatians that he did not back down on this critical issue. There are times when compromise is necessary, but there are also times when it is wrong. The pillars of the church agreed that Paul should continue to preach the gospel to Gentiles without forcing them to be Jewish.

Eating in Antioch                After Paul reminds the Galatians that the Gentile mission had been approved by those who were considered pillars of the church, he tells them about a particularly painful incident involving Peter. The Christians in Antioch ate together even though some were Jews and some were Gentiles. Table fellowship was one of the most important features of the early church, as Moravians well know. These meals were called the Agape, or love feast, and they were visible signs of the invisible grace of Christian love and unity. Rich and poor, male and female, slave and free ate together, breaking down the barriers that marred the secular world.

You may know that Judaism has special dietary rules, which grew much more elaborate over the years. We don’t know for sure what the rules were in Paul’s day, but there is evidence that particularly pious Jews believed that it was wrong to eat at the same table with Gentiles since they could not be sure how the food was prepared. The NT Agape meals appear to have been like our modern pot luck where everyone brings something to share, thus it would have been hard to keep kosher while breaking bread with Gentiles.

The Book of Acts says that Peter had a dream that showed him that all foods are clean, and so Peter began to eat with Gentiles. Paul agrees that Peter ate with the Gentile Christians in Antioch, but he changed his attitude when certain people arrived from Jerusalem and criticized him for not observing kosher laws. We do not know if James had sent them for this purpose. It is possible that they had simply never seen Jews and Gentiles eating together and were shocked at such behavior. In the 1950s some American evangelicals were sometimes shocked to see C. S. Lewis smoking and drinking wine. Today some Christians are shocked to hear rock music in worship. Paul tells us that nearly 2000 years ago these folks from Jerusalem were offended at what was going on in Antioch and refused to eat with Gentiles.

Peter and Paul:        It is possible that Peter and Barnabas were conflicted. Should they eat with the folks from Jerusalem or should they eat with the rest of the Antioch church? Perhaps Peter and Barnabas thought that hospitality required them to eat separately with the newcomers, but Paul saw this as an offense to the gospel itself. He tells us that he opposed Peter to his face and rebuked him for his behavior. He accused Peter of denying the gospel by his actions.

Just think about the significance of Paul’s actions here. Peter was one of the three most important disciples. According to one of the gospels, he was the head of the church, but Paul calls him a hypocrite. We should not dismiss this merely as an example of Paul’s arrogance and lack of self-control. He makes it clear that he only did this because something important was at stake. This scene is not reported in the Book of Acts, and the only reason we know it happened is because Paul uses it in this letter to the Galatians to illustrate his point that even apostles are not above criticism. Peter was a sinner prone to mistakes, just like any believer. Paul had the authority to rebuke him, not because of his high status in the church, but because the gospel was at stake.

Paul tells the Galatians about this painful incident because he believes that they were in danger of rejecting the gospel by their actions. When we return after Easter, we’ll look at Paul’s argument that Peter was being a hypocrite in his approach to the law.

Galatians 1:10-24 A Former Fanatic

Galatians 1:10-24 – A Former Fanatic Speaks

The Adult Bible Class of Home Moravian Church, originally broadcast March 22, 2009.

Introduction:                        Good morning and welcome to the Adult Bible Class of Home Moravian Church in beautiful Winston-Salem, NC. I hope it has been a good week for you and those you love. It was a rough week in my family. I want to give a shout out to my nephew, Erik Wheeler, who is intensive care in Baptist Hospital. We are all very worried about Erik and would appreciate your prayers for him and his mother and sisters. I spent yesterday up in Valdese, NC at a conference on immigration and the churches sponsored by the Waldensian Church and Wake Forest University School of Divinity. It was quite illuminating. One of the difficult aspects of a global economy is that millions of persons are displaced. In addition to spending time in the hospital and at Valdese, I spent some time with the staff of Old Salem looking at ways of up-dating the interpretative part of the museum. It is good to see how interested Old Salem is in the Moravian story. Speaking of Moravians, there will be a reception at Christ Moravian Church this afternoon for the president of Moravian College and Theological Seminary. Stop by and meet Dr. Thomforde if you have a chance. And don’t forget the Moravian art show in the Fine Arts Center of Salem College next weekend. There will lots of beautiful art that you can buy, and your money will go to a good cause. This week we are continuing our study of Paul’s letter to the Galatians.

Read 1:10-17

A Servant of Christ:                        We saw last week that Paul opens his letter to the Galatians with harsh words accusing them of deserting God by rejecting the good news of salvation in Christ. It appears that Paul’s opponents from Jerusalem were accusing him of preaching cheap grace; that his gospel was designed to please people instead of letting them on the narrow path of righteousness. We will talk more about their argument in a later lesson, but today let’s focus on Paul’s defense of himself. He begins by telling the Galatians that not seeking human approval but to please God. He describes himself as a slave of Christ, and his work with the Galatians was in obedience to the will of Christ.

Paul tells them that he had not become a homeless pilgrim traveling the world, suffering all kinds of hardships, and risking arrest in order to please people or build a name for himself. He was doing all of this in response to a call from Christ. It was not the gospel of Paul that he proclaimed, but the gospel of Jesus. And it was not Paul’s authority that was being questioned in Galatia or was it Paul that was being rejected; it was Christ.

Prophet of Christ:                        Paul tried to assure the Galatians that the good news that they had heard and accepted was not something dreamed up by an amateur philosopher or trouble-maker; it was a divine revelation. Modern historians are skeptical about claims of divine revelation, but Paul was convinced that he was preaching a message that came from a source beyond him. This was more than just a claim for the authority of his message, Paul wants to make it clear that his teaching is a break with the past. This is a new revelation of God’s work in the world. God has done something new, and the traditions of the elders no longer apply in the same way. Jesus Christ had been revealed to Paul as the agent of salvation who is ushering in a new age. Paul was telling the Galatians that they do not have to repeat the past, they can be the vanguards of the messianic age.

In order to back up his claim that he is a servant and spokesperson for Christ, Paul tells the Galatians about his own conversion. This is a part of the letter that has been of great interest to historians because it provides one of the few first-hand accounts of an individual’s conversion to Christianity in ancient times. The information Paul provides here can be compared with the account of his career given in Acts and with statements Paul gives in other letters, such as I Corinthians. We should not be surprised that there discrepancies in the accounts of Paul’s conversion in different books of the New Testament.

Story Corps                        Earlier this week I was invited to participate in the Story Corps project. Story Corps started in New York a few years ago and is now touring the United States. Two people, typically friends, sit in a booth and one helps the other tell his or her story. They get a CD of the recording, and a copy is housed in the library of Congress. So far 23,000 people have been recorded. My wife originally suggested that I do Story Corps, but I really do not like talking about myself. It was only when the pastor of Fries Moravian told me that the Story Corps folks really wanted a Moravian to talk about the church that I agreed.

Rob Lang interviewed me, and at one point he asked me to tell about my calling to the ministry, which I had talked about at church during Lent several years ago. For the life of me, I could not remember what I had said then. I told a true story about myself on Story Corps, but I do not know if it was similar to what I had told the church. Even when we are telling our own story, we rarely tell it the same way twice. We Moravians have a practice of writing our life-stories, which are then read at our funerals. We use the German word Lebenslauf to describe these memoirs. I’ve written mine at least four times, and it is different each time.

Paul’s Lebenslauf:                        Paul’s story changes as well. He shapes the story he tells to the Galatians because of the situation he is addressing at that moment. He leaves out many details that a historian would want to know, just as I do when people want to know why I’m a Christian and a pastor. In Acts we have three versions of Paul’s conversion, told for dramatic effect. The details differ somewhat, but the basic story is that Paul was on the road to Damascus when he saw a bright light and heard the voice of Christ calling from heaven. This story has shaped accounts of Christian conversion for two thousand years, so much so that the phrase Damascus Road is used to describe any sudden change in belief.

I was recently interviewed for the student newsletter at Wake Forest. They like to include personal profiles of classmates and professors. Before I told the student my story I emphasized that it was not a typical conversion account. I did not lose my faith because I began studying biblical criticism in college, like so many kids who grew up in church. I was lost in doubt while I was still in high school. It was actually biblical criticism and the study of theology that brought me to faith. But when the student wrote the interview up, it sounded like a typical evangelical conversion experience. He wrote it the way he thought it had happened. We do the same thing to Paul. We try to make his story fit our models of religious experience instead of listening closely to what he says.

Fanaticism or Faith?            Here in Galatians, Paul doesn’t say anything about a blinding light on the road to Damascus, nor does he talk about personal struggles over faith. Instead he reminds the Galatians that he had once persecuted Christians because he was such a zealous person. Verses 13 and 14 are the only times that the word Judaism is used in the NT, and we should not assume that Paul is using the word the way we do today. The word Judaism today refers to a major world religion with a long and beautiful history, meaningful rituals, and positive social ethic that has had a profound impact on our society. The Judaism we know emerged out of the religion of ancient Judea after the destruction of the Temple. During the same time that Christian bishops were establishing the organizational structure, scriptures, doctrines, and rituals of Christianity, rabbis were creating the Talmud that continues to guide the religious life of most Jews.

This is not what Paul is talking about when he says he was advanced in Judaism. It appears that he is using the word “Judaism” to refer to a particular way of being a Jew in the ancient Roman Empire. He uses the word much like people used the word Stoicism or Platonism; it was a way of living according to a particular set of beliefs. Paul indicates that one could advance in Judaism, presumably by adopting ever stricter interpretations of the Torah.

Before his encounter with Jesus, Paul believed that it was his responsibility to see that other Jews were observing the traditions of the elders as strictly as he was. To be zealous for the law, for Paul, meant that he must force others to be observant, too. It was not enough to observe the commandments privately; he felt the need to attack those who did not observe them. In Biblical times, being zealous meant being like the man who killed a Jewish priest for making a false sacrifice during the Maccabean Revolt (I Maccabees 2). Zealots killed to keep the synagogue and Temple pure. Today we would call such a person a fanatic.

Someone at Fries Memorial Church last week gave me a good definition of a fanatic: it is someone whose zeal increases as they lose sight of the purpose of their religion. Paul tells us that his zeal for the law led him to violently persecute the followers of Jesus because he saw them as a threat to the traditions of his ancestors. Such religious violence and persecution is one of the plagues of our time. We have seen how fanaticism can lead to abuse and murder as people become afraid that others are undermining their religion. Paul’s letter reminds us that this is nothing new. He was such a fanatic before he was called by Christ. He does not give us the details, but the language he uses indicates that he was indeed violent in his opposition to Jesus.

Conversion:                        Why does Paul remind the Galatians of his past? It is possible that his adversaries from Jerusalem were using Paul’s history to undermine his authority. We all have things in our past that could be used against us if they became public. Think of how politicians play the game of “gotcha” during campaigns. My students at Salem Academy several years ago found a poem I had written in my high school newspaper and were thrilled to find out that I had not always been the pious supporter of educational authority that I am today.

It’s possible that Paul’s past was coming back to haunt him, and that he was doing damage control here, but I’m not sure. It is just as possible that Paul had told the Galatians his story years before. He wanted these pagan converts to know who he was before Christ was revealed to him. He doesn’t have to give them the whole story here in the letter to the Galatians; he just reminds them of the crucial details. He was once so wrapped up in his own righteousness that he abused those who believed in Jesus. He tells them and us that religious fanaticism leads to violence, but Christ calls us to sacrificial love. The law can be used to abuse and reject people, but the grace of Christ can bring healing and hope.

A Light to the Nations:            Paul interprets his experience in terms used by some of the prophets of old. He says that God had set him apart in his mother’s womb to proclaim Christ among the Gentiles. This sounds very similar to statements made by Jeremiah (1:4-5) and Isaiah (49:1, 6), both whom claimed to have been chosen by God before they were even born. More significantly, as Richard Hays points out (New Interpreters Bible, Galatians, 215), both prophets claim that they called by God to be a light to the nations. There words were not just for the Jews.

Paul believed that Christ had sent him to proclaim the gospels to all the nations, to Jews and Gentiles, and he saw this as a continuation of the work of Jeremiah and Isaiah. Although Paul rejected many of the legal requirements of the Judaism of his day, he believed that his work was a continuation of the Israelite prophets. Paul was proclaiming the same God as the God of the prophets, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The new thing in his proclamation was that the Son of God had died and been raised from the dead. Because of Jesus, people of every nation could become the children of God.

Arabia:             One of the interesting details in Paul’s lebenslauf is that he went to Arabia after his conversion. This is one of those bits of Paul’s biography not discussed in Acts. We do not know where in Arabia he went, how long he stayed there, or what he did. There are many characters in Scripture who spent time in the desert before beginning their ministry, such as Moses and Elijah. Jesus is the most famous example. During Lent, we remember his 40 days alone in a deserted place after his baptism. When Jesus emerged from the desert, he began his ministry of teaching and healing. It is possible that Paul had a similar period of solitary. Perhaps he went into Arabia in order to think about what had happened to him on the Damascus Road. When you have an experience that completely reorients your life and sense of purpose, it is wise to take some time to make sense of what has happened. It also seems likely Paul received further revelations and mystical experiences while he was alone in the desert. He claims that Christ instructed him in the meaning of his death and resurrection.

Many scholars think that Paul went to the cities of Nabatea in Arabia, southeast of Damascus. Not only does that fit the geography nicely, it also fits our picture of Paul as an evangelist on the move. Paul may have set off to take the good news to the Arabians, but there is no evidence that he did so. Personally, I think it would have been unlikely that he started preaching as soon as he was converted or that he would begin in Arabia. N.T. Wright speculates that Paul actually went of a pilgrimage to Mt. Sinai or Horeb, much like Elijah, but again there is not much to support this idea. The key thing is that Paul went on a pilgrimage after his conversion and then returned to Damascus. It was another three years before he went to Jerusalem to confer with Cephas and James, the brother of Jesus.

Pillars of the Church:            Cephas is the Hebrew form of the name Peter, just as Saul is the Hebrew form of Paul. All of the gospels indicate that Peter was one of the most important disciples during Jesus’ life, and he continued to be important in the church after the resurrection. James, who is also known as James the Just is not mentioned in the gospels, but he appears in the Book of Acts as one of the pillars of the church in Jerusalem. The Jewish historian Josephus gives an account of his martyrdom in the days leading up to the Jewish War. An ossuary of a man named James was erroneously identified as that of James the Apostle a few years ago. Paul indicates that he spent two weeks with Peter and James, and presumably he learned something about Jesus from them. However, Paul insists that his understanding of the significance of the death of Jesus came from Christ. The death of Jesus was the end of the law, and those who are baptized into the death of Jesus put to death their old corrupt, pagan lives.

It was after this time with Peter that Paul began his missionary journeys. Paul claims that he spent so little time in Jerusalem that the Christians there did not know his face, but they knew his name. The former persecutor was now a preacher. The Christians in Judea rejoiced because he had changed his way and was proclaiming the faith he had once rejected. We need to remember that we only have Paul’s word on this. There may have been some Christians in Judea that remained suspicious of this former anti-Christian zealot who had persecuted their brothers and sisters in the faith.

Conclusion:                        The reason Paul was telling the Galatians that the apostles in Jerusalem rejoiced at his preaching among the Gentiles was to reassure them that the message he had proclaimed in Galatia was approved by the apostles. He was making the case that he had not changed his message over the years. Christ had died for sins, and the followers of Christ are no longer bound by the old laws. He claimed that it was his adversaries who were preaching a new message. They were they ones who were misinterpreting the work of Christ. They were the ones confusing the issue, not Paul. Next week we’ll look at Paul’s account of controversy in the church.