I don’t know how many of you were huddled in your basements, closets and hallways Thursday evening, as Tornadoes roared in to our surrounding counties, but the ferocity of Thursdays weather had nothing on Paul’s explosive temperament shown in this text. Did you hear the absolute contempt for anyone who tries to dilute the Gospel?
The scripture I read for you was a calm and steady reading. I read it for meaning. I used evocative pauses and expressive pacing, in the way I have been taught, and in the way I uphold. But trust me when I say, there was nothing about my reading of this text that comes close to Paul’s fury with the Galatians.
It really goes like this:
Galatians, you sniveling idiots.
You are traitors to a life in Christ.
You are passive, weak, and stoop to believing those who turn up and say only Jews can follow our Lord.
You pervert the Gospel! You abandon our Lord.
So someone has to be in authority here –
it’s not them, it’s certainly not you,
it is only Jesus the Messiah, and God the Father,
who raised him from the dead. [ii]
Can’t you see Paul writing this letter in some far off region; perhaps from prison, feverishly pacing with a fist in the air?
- There’s no “Peace be with you,” or
- “Galatians, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.”
- He doesn’t give thanks.
- He’s just incensed because news has reached him that the Galatians have succumbed to an “exclusive gospel” – meant only for those who follow Moses. [iii] [iv]
Dan Clendenin puts it like this, Paul uses the harshest language to repudiate those who had narrowed the gospel down to a Jewish sect. Paul’s gospel was about expanding the message to include Gentiles, any person who is not Jewish, and all the world.
This is why Paul said that in serving God he didn’t seek human approval. If you want human approval, you privilege your own In group over every Other group. You limit God’s love to your own clan and claim to be the sole inheritor of the divine promise.
The “true gospel” that Paul defends is one that expands the love of God in Christ to all people (without exception). In Galatians, Paul says the Gospel of our Lord bursts our normal boundaries of exclusion, like race, religion, gender, and class — “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ.” [v]
It takes a lot of practice to appreciate Paul. Most of my life I’ve misunderstood him. I’ve been afraid of him. The man is a tidal wave of rage. But when you realize that the oldest writings of the New Testament come from Paul, and half of the New Testament is attributed to Paul and his followers, you take a new look at why his fury turns out to be such a gift.
And I love him for that because sometimes we need to be shocked and shaken out of our:
- Greeting-Card faith;
- Our soft-indulgent faith;
- Our lethargic, docile faith;
- and instead we need to be plunked by tornado, like Dorothy in middle of Munchkin Land, and into a vortex of faith where we’ve drop-kicked at the cross: where Christ crucified, is not a soft pillow to sleep on, but a fountain of deliverance and rebirth.
Many years ago, before I was a pastor, I was a pastoral counselor, and I served at a counseling center here in Princeton called the Northeast Career Center that was founded by our General Assembly in 1965 as a place church folks, clergy, and seminarians, to go and do the work of vocational discernment. Through a series of evaluations, assessments, and conversations, we guided people to evaluate their work and life and to ask the central questions: Who is God calling you to be? Where is God calling you to serve? What do you need to get there?
It’s really meaningful work to take stock of your life and to prayerfully discern what’s coming next. It takes willingness, honesty, and risk to lay our lives before God, and to change the things that keep us from maturing in Christ.
What I found, and I include myself, is the number one thing that that holds people back from full maturity in Christ is having issues with authority. And what I mean is:
- Just like the Galatians, we struggle to be obedient to Christ.
- Were prone to take an easier and softer way.
- We fight against those in authority: Authority over us and on behalf of us.
- We battle, sometimes passively, sometimes aggressively against the ties that bind.
But in the end, I’ve come to learn we’re not so much people who have issues with authority.
We are people who have issues with obedience.
And to whom are we to be obedient?
For Christ died for us. Christ rose for us.
Christ reigns in power for us.
It is Christ who prays for us.
Anyone who is in Christ – is a new creation.
The old life is gone, and a new life has begun.
When we rely on our own way, the effects on our lives are devastating.
- our willfulness destroys trust.
- our disobedience leads to terrible decision-making.
- our self-indulgence annihilates ours souls, breaks our families, and puts an end to relationships.
But day by day when we seek to live the Gospel life – Inch by inch, when we offer ourselves in obedience to our Lord – we heal, we find a new freedom, we are restored, enlivened. It’s a joy like we’ve never known, a grounding, a daily action that puts us in God’s hands. Where else would we want to be?
We offer our lives to our Lord –
the same One who gave up his authority for us,
who was obedient to the point of death,
even death on the cross.
The same One who gave us his body and blood.
Take. Eat. Take. Drink.
Do this in remembrance of Me.
[i] Galatians 1:1-12: Paul an apostle sent neither by human commission nor from human authorities, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead and all the members of God’s family who are with me, To the churches of Galatia: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen. I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are confusing you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you, let that one be accursed! As we have said before, so now I repeat, if anyone proclaims to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let that one be accursed! Am I now seeking human approval, or God’s approval? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still pleasing people, I would not be a servant of Christ. For I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin; for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. [NRSV]
[ii] Adapted from Eugene Peterson’s The Message. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1993.
[iii] Margaret Whyte. “Sermon: Galatians 1.” www.ChurchofScotland.org, June 2013.
[iv] Jaime Clark-Soles. “Commentary on Galatians 1.” Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN, workingpreacher.org, June 2010.
[v] Dan Clendenin. “No Other Gospel.” www.journeywithjesus.net/essays/977-no-other-gospel, May 22, 2016.