Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Gal 6

Verses 6 to 10

These verses continue the theme of how someone who is spiritual is to live in step with the Spirit.

'All good things' in v. 6 is probably a way of refering to all the many blessings we have received from God our Father. It is a great encouragement to teachers of God's word when those who are taught share something of God's blessing: yes, materially, teachers in the church are to be supported, but also spiritually. When was the last time you encouraged someone who teaches you by sharing with them something you have learned, some insight into God's grace you have received?

v. 7, I think, is saying something like this ... it is possible to live selfishly and think that God will bless your selfishness. But, God will not be abused like this, he can see right through you. Sowing to the flesh, v. 8, is selfishness, such a way of life brings only destruction. On the other hand, sowing to the Spirit is living generously, courageously for others. Eternal life is that life in God's presence those in step with the Spirit presently enjoy, more of this life is what reap when we live in step with God's Spirit - so, no surprise there!

vv. 9-10 There is a phrase I often hear, 'I've worked for the church (Guild/Sunday school/missions/choir) for ** many years, it's time for the younger ones to take their turn.' Not always, but sometimes what is actually being said is, 'I'm tired of all this good work and I want to have more time for my things.' We can grow weary of doing good.
Or how about, 'We've been at the evangelism/service/praying/whatever for ages now and nothing is happening, let's do something else.' I wonder how many Christians have given up on some work for the gospel before it was God's time to bless their labours?
Doing good, keeping in step with the Spirit, being spiritual is not something we do for a season and then move on to the next thing (apart from the return of the Lord Jesus there is no next thing). I know how hard it is, but we are to keep on, take every opportunity to do good.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Gal 6

We can divide this final chapter of Galatians as follows:

Verses 1 to 5
The phrase 'you who are spiritual' connects this section with chapter 5. Those who are spiritual are those who walk by the Spirit, who produce the fruit of the Spirit. Paul is not moving onto another theme or topic, but another part of the same thing.
In passing this is the same word which we find in 1 Cor 12:1, 14:1 where it is usually rendered 'spiritual gifts'. I think the whole section in 1 Cor, chapters 12 to 14 is better understood as being not about spiritual gifts, but about being spiritual. What is the Spirit filled life like? Gal 6 here adds to this picture Paul offers us.

Those who are spiritual bear other's burdens, work for reconciliation. Forgiveness is difficult because we don't want to carry the load which will remove temptation from others, we don't want to engage in the difficult work of reconciliation. What does it mean to say, 'I forgive you, but I don't want anything to do with you'?
Spiritual people recognise their own need for forgiveness, their own need for help with their burdens and learn, in step with the Spirit, what it means to lovingly care for others.

Monday, 29 March 2010

Gal 5

Verses 16 to 26

I'm sure that many of us have heard sermons which seem to focus upon vv. 17-21. Like conversion testimonies which so glamourise our life before Christ that the rest of us are left thinking, 'Well I had a pretty dull life and didn't sin as much as I could.'
We need to know what the life of the sinful nature is - but only so we can avoid it. Not so we can endless talk about it.

I read this passage in Peterson's The Message a few weeks ago and I think the way he presents the fruit of the Spirit is really good and worth setting out side by side with the ESV:
ESV                     Peterson The Message
Love                    Affection for others
Joy                       Exuberance about life
Peace                   Serenity
Patience               We develop a willingness to stick with things
Kindness              A sense of campassion in the heart
Goodness             A conviction that a basic holiness permeates things
Faithfulness         Involved in loyal commitments
Gentleness           Not needing to force our way in life
Self-control         Able to marshal and direct our energies wisely

Some are better than others, but on the whole Peterson will help us look at this familiar passage in a new light, and that has to be good.

There is a phrase I like about practising the presence of God. I wonder if we need to have an additional phrase practising living in step with the Spirit? Sometimes the message that the Spirit will grow his fruit in us can lead to a passive waiting for the Spirit to grow patience in me. But, we are already filled by and with the Spirit can we not begin to practise living as tree producing this beautiful fruit?

Gal 5

Verses 13 to 15
Freedom is a great blessing in Christian living which we receive in union with Christ. However, the word 'freedom' can be a trap to many. We hear freedom and we think, 'Great, I can do whatever I like.'

Our freedom in Christ is in Christ. We have been set free from sin, death and the devil so that we can now serve Christ, serve others, live as a blessing to the nations. Our freedom in Christ is not for ourselves, but for others. We need to learn this new perspective upon freedom.

Saturday, 27 March 2010


The biblefresh web site is now live. There is a link on my side bar, please do visit the biblefresh site.

There are lot's of good resources to help us read the bible, and to help us encourage others to read the bible. Visit the site, read the bible - it could change your world!

The biblefresh Scotland launch is on Monday 24 May in Edinburgh, venue and time to follow, also details of events elsewhere, probably Glasgow and Dundee.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Gal 5

Verses 7 to 12

The metaphor here is of running and being hindered from running - very similar to standing firm or falling away, holding fast and letting go; having received the gospel and abandoning the gospel.

Obeying the truth is a key phrase in Galatians, to obey the truth is to remain in the gospel. Obedience is not a contrast to faith, but a consequence of faith and salvation. Yes, a letter in the NT which is traditionally held up as one of the great texts for justification by faith alone requires from those so justified, obedience.

There is a persuasion, a temptation to not obey the truth. God who calls us as his disciples will not persuade or tempt us in this way. The old saying is true, just a little of such persuasion will infect the whole lump. Just a few who encourage us to disobey can very easily cause great trouble for the church.

Paul has great confidence, not I think in the church, or Christians, at Galatia, but in the truth of the gospel. He believes that when he preaches, or writes, of the gospel that gospel carries with it all the power and clarity needed to persuade others of its truthfulness. Paul therefore can hope in the gospel that those taking a different position from his will have their minds changed by the gospel. The judgment or punishment reserved for those not submitting to the gospel is the judgment of God which will fall upon all who reject his gospel.

The cross is offensive: it challenges our self-sufficiency, declares our sinfulness, rebukes our rejection of God - we are offended when we are challenged and condemned as rebel sinners before our God. To preach the cross faithfully is to put one's self in a place of being rejected and causing offence. What then shall we do, give up on preaching the cross? May it never be. Only the cross makes all people right with God. Let it offend us, better that we are offended and led to the cross than not offended, not brought to the cross and so not saved by Christ.

v. 12 very well expresses the exasperation of Paul towards those who teach human actions in place of the cross.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Gal 5

Verses 2 to 6
It might appear as though Paul were saying that Christ and the law are mutually exclusive; you can have either the law or Christ but not both. However, that's not exactly right.

Accepting circumcision is about our practice, our lifestyle and the way we think or hope we can approach God. To accept circumcision is to depend upon the act of circumcision for our acceptance with God. When we do this, clearly, Christ becomes meaningless to us, since the gospel declares to us that in Christ alone can we find acceptance with God.
This is made clear in v. 4 of this paragraph where Paul writes about desiring to be justified (made right with God) by the law. If that is our desire we have 'fallen away from grace' - nb. there is the falling away theme once again!!

Christ and the law are not mutually exclusive, that is the wrong way to think about how Christ relates to the law. Christ fulfills, achieves, completes, satisfies the law. In Christ the law is ended. The law points to Christ and now Christ has done the law is fulfilled in Christ.

We are to approach God in Christ, depending upon his finished work, with faith enlivened by the Spirit clinging to the hope of righteousness - which is Christ. It really is all about Jesus!

v. 6 needs careful handling. In response to vv. 2-5 we cannot simply ignore circumcision, or any other religious practice we may think of. Non circumcision is no more of a claim before God than circumcision. United to Christ Jesus by the gift of faith which is made alive in us by the Spirit we find that our lives are changed and our deeds, our actions become those of love. Faith alone does not mean we sit at home, comfortable in our intellectual comprehension of 'the faith'. By no means! Grace alone describes our salvation by God in Christ, faith alone describes our union with Christ and our life now lived in union with our Saviour.
Faith is only faith when it results in acts of love displayed in our lives.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Gal 5

We can divide Gal 5 into the following sections:

Verse 1 has been coming for a while now, all through chapter 4 we could sense it coming over the horizon.

This surely is the characteristic call to the Galatians - stand firm! Do not submit again!

The blessing of the gospel, the outcome of being justified by faith is freedom in Christ: freedom to worship God, freedom to follow Jesus, freedom to live by the Spirit.
We have been set free for (in order that we might enjoy) freedom!

Do we live in this freedom? Are we remaining there (standing firm)? Or have we exchanged our freedom in Christ for a new slavery?

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Gal 4:21-31

Paul brings his critique of seeking to live under the law to a head with this contrasting use of the Hagar Sarah narrative.

Of interest is v. 24 where Paul writes 'this may be interpreted allegorically'. Allegory is a very particular form of textual interpretation which should be used very carefully, and I think sparingly, in relation to the bible. Allegory is different from typology and the two must be carefully distinguished. There are a few places, here and the 'parable' in Matt 21:33-46 being two obvious ones. I write 'parable' since being an allegory there is a legitimate question about this text fitting into the genre of parable.

Back to Gal 4, Paul is contrasting the liberty enjoyed by the child of the promise in contrast to the natural born child who is not free. This use of the Hagar Sarah narrative does not diminish the historical nature of this narrative, these things did happen. However, guided by the Spirit Paul is able to use them in this way to add weight to all he has written about our relationship to the law and the great liberty offered in the gospel.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Gal 4:12-20

In a very personal passage Paul expresses his deep concern for the Galatians as they waver over the truth of the gospel and are tempted to return to former ways.
Characteristically, Paul offers himself as an example for other disciples to follow. At times we are tempted to write this off by reminding ourselves that Paul is an Apostle and we're not. Such cowardice will not do, too many young believers are desperately looking for role models from older disciples, worked examples of how to live as those who depend upon Jesus.
Do we not give thanks to God, and rightly so, for those who showed us gospel living in their lives? Should we not seek to be such people who will show others?

Paul has preached and shown the gospel to the Galatians. They have received this gospel as though brought to them by 'an angel of God' (v. 14). We can well understand why Paul is perplexed, why would anyone abandon such a gospel?

v. 19 has a very helpful note from Paul about what is happening in our lives as we receive and continue in the gospel, 'Christ is formed in you!' Is this how we think about gospel living? Is our first priority our own salvation or forgiveness? What place does the formation of Christ in us have in our thinking? As people in whom Christ is formed we surely become that blessing to the nations promised by the Father to Abraham, see 3:14 again. What a goal for our discipleship!

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Gal 4:8-11

Paul writes more than once about how entering a Christian life is turning from false gods to the one true God - see 1 Thess 1:9-10.
In this short paragraph Paul writes of the on going temptation faced by Christians to make the return trip. It might be that this is the key theme of Galatians - 1:6, 10; 2:5, 13, 14, 18; 3:3, 4; 5:1, 2, 4, 7, 8. Having become Christian by the work of God through his Spirit we are often tempted to regress to a form of self-help religion which denies the gospel.
It is possible that Paul's writing on justification and righteousness in chapter 3 is done in service of calling Christian back from this error of abandoning the gospel.
4:9 - Paul is asking how can we do this.

We are attracted by ceremonies, by rituals, by being part of the 'in crowd' - all of which is offered us in false religion. If the Christians in Galatia, or in Stranraer or wherever do this, then Paul may well despair that his labours have been in vain.

So any Christian reading this - time for self reflection and examination: where do you find, in your religious life, that you are depending upon days, seasons, rituals, ceremonies - which you know have become a false god to you? What is tempting you in this direction? How can we encourage one another to remain in the gospel now that we have come to know God?

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Gal 4:1-7

Sorry for the break over the past two weeks, everything else took over, but I'm back to Gal 4.

We can divide up the chapter:

This opening paragraph then follows immediately from the end of chapter 3.

In Paul's culture a son who would inherit had a lowly status before he came into his inheritance, just like being a slave. The common practice was to appoint guardians, or managers of the estate, until the son came into his inheritance.
Paul draws the comparison between the condition of a son and 'we', all those who have now become disciples of Jesus. We have all been in the condition of slaves, yes, slaves to the world, to our flesh, to our desires.
Paul has come to see that the time of the coming of the Lord Jesus; his death, resurrection and ascension is the time set by God the Father for his children to enter into their inheritance.
Redeemed, v. 5, is a commercial term - purchased for God. Adoption as sons continues the family and inheritance metaphor, both of these terms describing in part what it means for us to enter into the liberty of the children of God.
One of the blessings of our becoming children of God is the gift and receipt of the Spirit of God within us. God gives his Spirit to all his children - the gift of the Spirit is not a higher blessing but in inseperable from our life as disciples of the Lord Jesus. It is only by the working of God's Spirit within us that anyone can call out to God, as Jesus the Son taught us, 'Father'.

I think this paragraph is one of the very few where 'son' cannot always be rendered as gender neutral. In Paul's culture only the son would inherit, but in the gospel all become 'sons' in the sense that all inherit the blessings of God without in any sense all becoming male.