Thursday, January 28, 2016

Servant-Slave Symbolism

How much more can Paul have to say about the same thing?

There is only one gospel.  Do not compromise it, modify it, or corrupt it.

The law is not my master. I am crucified with Christ. Christ lives in me.

The law gets us to Christ.  In Christ I am truly free to live the life that God wants me to live.  Why would I want to go backwards to making rules and regulations my master?

Getting this point across to these believers in Galatia was very important to Paul so he followed the age old adage of speakers and writers.  Talk a lot about a little.  Use as many illustrations, examples, and analogies as it takes to make your point.

So Paul comes to what amounts to a chapter of analogies.  Paul didn’t write with chapter breaks so his discussion here really is a continuation of in Christ we are neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free person, or even male nor female.  We are one. 

We are not a composite of men and women or ethnic origins or social status.  This is not a description of a melting pot.  This isn’t an averaging thing.  It is not a unisex thing.  We are one in that we are children of the promise.  We are Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise.  In Christ we are all blessed to be God’s children.  We are heirs.

Now Paul turns to his first analogy.  A child that is an heir is not treated as an adult heir.  He has masters and in many ways seems like a slave even though he is an heir.  Until the time is right, until the kid comes of age, he will not enjoy the fullness of his inheritance.

Is Paul talking about the Galatians?  Not really, he is talking about humankind.  In this journey that is humankind, we have been kids for most of the journey.  We have had governors and trustees and things like the law.  We as people have never known the fullness of our relationship with God until…

 But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.

All that Paul left off was to say, “Merry Christmas.”  These two short verses are Paul’s Christmas story.  It is not quite as short as John’s, And the word became flesh and dwelt among us, but is surely a succinct account.

So now, we are no longer a slave but God’s child and an heir.  This is our new nature.  The Spirit of God himself lives in us and we cry out to God as we would our father:  Abba, Daddy, Father.

Next, Paul makes analogy to the way the Galtians lived before.  This was not according to the Law of Moses but according to the worldly precepts of their time.  Surely this involved the worship of idols and rituals.  There has never really been a shortage of false gods in the world and the Galatians had filled their quota.  They had been slaves to falsehood.

But they were under attack by these Jews who said they followed Christ but really wanted their religion back, not go go back to the pagan lifestyle they knew before but to the lifestyle the Jews knew before.  The Galatians were being asked to return to a place they had never been—slaves to the law.

The Jewish believers were pressuring the Galatian believers to observe the festivals of the Lord.  There is nothing wrong with observing these festivals—they are for the Lord’s people, but the motivation was wrong.

These people who wanted their religion back were pressuring the Galatians to live by this Jesus Plus Gospel, which as Paul said from the beginning is not gospel at all.  They were passionate about it but their passion was misplaced and very selfish.  They were losing status in the world and they wanted it back.  Perhaps like the workers in the vineyard that worked all day, they thought they deserved more for following the law all of their lives.

Paul surely not convinced that he has made his point goes to yet another analogy.  Father Abraham had many sons, but he started with two:  Ishmael and Isaac.

Ishmael came by a servant girl because Abraham and Sarah thought that maybe God needed a little help fulfilling his promise.  Then came Isaac who was exactly what God had promised.  This was a story that every Jew had learned from an early age and now the Galatians had been educated to some extent.

Paul, however, attaches some symbolism to these two sons.  The first, Ishmael, was not a son of the promise.  He represents slavery.  He represents the law and what those who held power in Jerusalem wanted.

Isaac, however, did represent the promise and freedom.  Paul says that we are not children of the slave woman but of the free woman.  If we continued into the next chapter, Paul would become instructive again and command:  Do not take the yoke of slavery again!

Do not take the yoke of slavery again!  In the previous chapter, Paul challenged these Galatian believers.  Why would you even think about trying to live by a law that was designed to point you to the freedom you have already been given by faith?

It seems that Paul is driving home the same point over and over and over again.  He is using a variety of explanations, but he is doing every long distance thing that he can think of to keep these new believers faithful to the gospel.

So I ask us to think to Paul’s commissioning to go into the world as an apostle.  Think to the words that Jesus spoke to Ananias, who did not want to this despicable man and restore his sight and baptize him.

 But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel.  I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”

Think to how much Paul suffered.  He was beaten, stoned, imprisoned, shipwrecked and snakebit, and run out of just about every town he preached in.  Now that is suffering for the name of Jesus.

But what about having led a group of people to the truth, to the Lord, to the gospel and then being far away and hearing that they are listening to another gospel.  You know that there is no other gospel but somehow, someone was started chipping away at their foundation.

Now you are fulfilling the mission that the Lord himself has given you.  You continue to preach the word in season and out of season and one day will pass that guidance on to a protégée and to the world, but you are hurting.  You are suffering because these believers who heard and received the truth from you, not because you were a great orator, but because the Spirit of the Lord worked among them, are now falling away.

They were accepting some additions to the gospel.  They were diluting the blood of Jesus as not being enough to make them right with God.

I don’t think that Paul enjoyed being snakebit or stoned but I believe he might have rather suffered another episode of one or the other than to feel these believers who had know only freedom in Christ slipping away into slavery.

Can we relate to this?

Parents who know their kids are hurting but can’t be there suffer in this way.

Teachers who see their former students corrupted by the world know this suffering.

Commanders who are separated from their men who are under attack know this feeling.

Pastors and elders who see so many slip away from the Body of Christ into this state of being disconnected know this pain.

Paul had only a letter to bring these children home.  He admonished, equipped, explained, and explained again and again; using every literary tool he could muster.

I have no doubt that Paul suffered for the name of Jesus as he wrote this letter, but he didn’t throw a pity party.  He employed the gifts that the Lord had given him to the fullest extent that he could and he did his best to call these brothers and sisters home.  He did his best to lead them back to the truth.

We don’t live in a time where people pressure Christians to participate in the Feast of Weeks or lose your salvation. Most modern day Christians accept, at least intellectually, this whole once saved, always saved doctrine.

We like the fact that Jesus paid it all.  We like having our sins taken away at no cost to us.  Sometimes we do some bargaining with God or place rules upon ourselves on top of our salvation, but overall, most modern day Christians like the fact that the blood of Jesus did everything.

But we share something in common with Paul.  We suffer for the name of Jesus in the same way he suffered for these Galatians. We see so many people who have accepted this free gift of salvation who have fallen away from gathering together to worship and serve the Lord.

We see so many disconnected from the body of Christ.  We see these people at work or at Walmart or at the ball game but not worshiping our Lord, and not serving our Lord as a vital part of the body of Christ.

For those who love the Lord, I think our pain for those whom we know that have slipped into apathy and ambivalence as their response to the love of God that we know in Christ Jesus, know what it is to suffer for the name of Jesus.

We have neither been flogged nor have we been shipwrecked, but we hurt all the same.

The people that I am talking about are right there in our paths but they have lost their way.

Many have good jobs, nice homes, and at least a couple nice vehicles, but they have lost their way.  Their salvation is intact but their response to this wonderful gift is apathy and ambivalence.

They sing Jesus Paid it All but skip over the verse, all to him I owe.

In response to this wonderful gift of life that comes by way of the blood of Jesus, their response is to worship the things of this world.  We do not condemn them.  We call them home.

We don’t minister to others to obtain our salvation.  We love our neighbor in response to the incredible love of God that we know in Christ Jesus.  And when we do this as an active part of a family of faith, we grow.

We grow in grace!

We grow in grace, knowing full well that we will make mistakes and that God will just keep on loving us as we learn from them.

We grow.  Every living thing that God made is designed to grow, but the Christian who accepts this fantastic gift of God’s undeserved forgiveness, love, and favor and does not respond in love and faith and obedience, remains a child.  They remain a child that is not ready to receive the fullness of their inheritance.

The Christian that gives in to apathy and ambivalence or busyness remains a child and never knows the fullness of being God’s child—of growing up as God’s child wrapped completely in his love and mercy and compassion and full of his strength and power, and yes even a sound mind.

They never know what it is to be fully loved.  They never know the fullness of the blessing that we who grow in God’s grace know more and more each day.

And they never know that we suffer for the name of Jesus when we can’t reach them.  So we are left to do what Paul did with the Galatians.  Which is?

Everything we know how to do to call these people home.  We use our freedom in Christ to call people home and pray that they use their freedom to come home.

We will get there in the next chapter, but here is a preview.  I give you this preview because we have had a healthy dose of theology so far, but we are going to get into some discipleship straightaway.  

We are to use our Freedom that we have in Christ not to indulge our selfish and sinful nature but to serve one another in love.  The entire law is summed up in love one another.  The essence of all of God’s direction and directives is that we love our neighbor as much as we love ourselves.

We do this individually and we do this as the body working together.  We are God’s children but know because we are growing in God’s grace that we are ruled and fueled by God’s Spirit and not by governors or trustees or the law.  We are not treated as slaves or as those not trusted to manage our own affairs, but are free to fully live and truly be God’s love in this world.

Let’s take that love with the same intensity and diversity and creativity that Paul had and call those who have lost their way to come home.

Come home.


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