July 7, 2019
I remember 9th grade English with Mr. Wayne Brix. (anybody else? Dwight, Deb, Mary, Roger) He was a teacher from the old school; tough and demanded top effort from his students. I admit I enjoyed learning grammar from him... it is so logical! But what really has stuck in my head for all these years (50?) was the end of the year assignment for a research paper. I remember I did it on the possibility of human beings building settlements on the moon. But that isn't what struck me about the assignment. It was what he told us when he was explaining how we needed to use sources and a bibliography. In that announcement, he explained that the bible could not be used as a source as it had too many contradictions. I remember being shocked. The bible; contradictions? And I would be interested in having a conversation with him today about how that statement holds up. But one example he could have used comes right in today's epistle reading. Verse 2 says, “Bear one another's burdens.” But verse 4 says, “For all must carry their own loads.” Sounds kind of like a contradiction, doesn't it?
This letter was written by the apostle Paul to a group of churches in the region of Galatia... a region west of Rome and North of Israel. The key point of the letter is Paul's defense of the gospel as he received it from the Lord. It is a gospel directed at non-Jews, the Gentiles. Some men had come to the churches of Galatia teaching that Christians must follow all the laws of the Jews. Paul disputed that in this letter, as well as his other writings. More on that later.
We read in chapter 6 a continuation of what we read last week, the fruit of the Spirit; living in the ways of God. He calls people of the church to restore one another when sin has brought division into the group. Verse 2 he writes, “Bear one another's burdens” which I've already mentioned. But the sentence doesn't end there, “and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Paul teaches that we are not under obligation to the Law of the Old Testament, but we are called to fulfill the law of Christ. And just what is the law of Christ? Did Jesus ever tell us what commandments we were under obligation to as Christians? From Luke chapter 10: 8 One of the scribes came near and he asked Jesus, “Which commandment is the first of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30 you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” So we see that fulfilling this command to bear one another's burdens is fulfilling the law of Christ. So no contradiction with Jesus in this passage.
But Paul then asks us to examine our own lives, our opinion of ourselves, our work and tells us that we shall each bear our own burden or translated here, load. Is that a contradiction with verse 2? Not necessarily. Paul makes the assumption that we are living in a Christian community. As such, we are responsible to one another... to bear other's burdens. But ultimately, we are responsible for our own life. We carry our own load, or as Paul wrote to the Philippians, we are to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2 12b-13)
Verse 6, sharing all good things is about financial support of the church family. I'm not getting into that today.
Moving on, Paul writes that we reap what we sow. That is a statement that many of us question. We see evil people reaping great rewards all the time in this world. We see good, hard working people who suffer serious misfortune. But Paul didn't just make this up. He's citing the Old Testament. Proverbs 22: 8 says, “Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity,” and Job 4: 8 says, “those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same.” So what does this mean, for so often we don't seem to reap what we sow?
And it seems the next verse clears it up for us. “ If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life.” If we are unreceptive to the things of the Spirit, we sow the seeds of fleshly return. But when God is the focus of our lives, we reap the reward of eternal life. But more than that, the focus of our lives turn from our selfish desires and concerns and we become aware of the totality of creation. Paul reminds us that we don't ignore God and God's call on our lives without consequences. And the thing we often don't understand is the we may not see or recognize what we or others are reaping. In God's wisdom, the reaping and sowing are all taken care of with grace and love.
I'm not going to get through every verse today, so I want to jump ahead a bit. This letter was most likely written by a scribe as Paul dictated it. But in verse 11 it appears that Paul takes over the actual writing. I like how Eugene Peterson translated it, “Now, in these last sentences, I want to emphasize in the bold scrawls of my personal handwriting the immense importance of what I have written to you.” Paul takes up the pen to emphasize the key points of this whole letter. He speaks specifically of the call by outsiders for the Galatians to be circumcised. More generally, he writes of the false doctrines of achieving our salvation through specific works. For that time and place, it was circumcision, for us today it might be church membership or saying a certain prayer or speaking in tongues... or anything that is added to what Jesus accomplished in his life and death and resurrection that puts us in the right category. These are human additions. The visitors to Galatia were recruiting; then they added the requirement of circumcision. But Paul says this fact is of immense importance: nothing can be added to what Jesus has already accomplished. Our boast, as Paul writes, is in the cross of Jesus. Verse 15 then concludes his main point, again using circumcision but remember it can be anything that gets added as a requirement to salvation, “ It is not what you and I do—submit to circumcision, reject circumcision. It is what God is doing.” It is what God is doing, what Jesus has done; we add nothing to the gift of salvation.
A couple of unusual verses I think we should look at. When you read scriptures, there are going to be unusual sentences with structure or word choices that might not make sense at first glance. There are commentaries to help, but most of us are not going to look up these phrases. Usually a little common sense and reflection can help us with the meaning. In verse 14, Paul uses this phrase, “the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” That is not a sentence we would normally use. So we need to examine what that means. Jesus was crucified. He went to the cross intentionally, not accidentally. He gave up the things of this life and his life as a ransom for the many. We are to give up the call of the concerns of the world to give God our first allegiance. Everything is to be put aside for the call of God. All is as dead relative to our relationship with Jesus. We are no longer primarily citizens of this world but of God's world because we have died to the things of this world. In Colossians 3:3 Paul confirms this thought when he tells us, “you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” We have been crucified to the things of this world.
Another verse I had a question about, verse 16, “As for those who will follow this rule-- peace be upon them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God.” First, what rule... didn't he just say we don't have to follow rules. And who is the Israel of God? Since Paul wrote “this rule”, we need to glance back and see what kind of rule we might find in the words preceding this. Taking in the purpose of the letter, I take the rule to be that we boast in the cross of Jesus. And Jesus went to the cross in love. So the rule is the rule of love; loving God and neighbor.
And who is the “Israel of God”? There is not uniform agreement on this but again, the context would suggest it is the people who are following the law of love. It would have been easier if that is what Paul would have written, but he was a bit of a wordsmith and would turn a phrase when he could.
If I recall correctly, the conclusion of my term paper for Mr. Brix was that we would have the moon colonized eventually. I'm not so sure that's going to happen. And I'm not so sure that I was very confident in my conclusion. But Paul is very confident in his conclusion. He took up his pen and wrote in large letters emphasizing how important it was to convey his thesis: Jesus has accomplished all that was required for salvation. If churches or preachers or pastors try to add anything, always remember: nothing can add to what Jesus has already done. I shudder whenever I hear a preacher proclaim, to be saved you must.... something. Whatever they add is wrong. But humankind has forever tried to get right with God through our works. God has made every provision for our salvation through Jesus Christ. Jesus paid it all, our redemption has been won. You are claimed by God as a child of God. Nothing can add to that and nothing can sever that tie. God would have us live out the law of love in response to the love we've been shown. May we grow in love, may we grow in confidence that we are children of the heavenly father. Period. Nothing you can add and in that promise we claim the peace and mercy promised us. Amen.
Children of the Heavenly Father 41 HLC