Archive for April, 2009
Amidst the many health fears that are swirling around the recent swine flu outbreak, an outbreak which the World Health Organization is now ominously calling a pandemic, there are also some financial fears. Although pharmaceutical stocks are understandably soaring, other portions of the economy are not faring nearly so well. Some countries like Russia are restricting imports for fear of the spreading pandemic. The airlines are hemorrhaging capital as people cancel flights to Mexico, the epicenter of this worrisome outbreak. Wall Street, it seems, once again has the jitters.
Jitters about money are nothing new: Not in the past two years, and not in the past two millennia. Such jitters can, however, invite us to a kind of “gut check” on the position that money holds in our lives and souls.
“The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Timothy 6:10). These words from Paul to Timothy have been quoted and misquoted countless times. Because of the widespread misuse of this famous passage, a couple of observations are here appropriate in order to guide us in a proper understanding of Paul’s instruction. First, it is the love of money, not money itself, which Paul warns against. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard this verse quoted as, “Money is the root of all evil.” Wrong. Money itself is not evil. It’s the perverted desire for money, also known as greed, which is evil. Thus, jitters about financial downturns are perfectly appropriate and even understandable, for we are called to be responsible with the wealth that God has entrusted to us. And watching this wealth evaporate in a tide of financial uncertainty is never fun. However, if our jitters over the latest financial effects of the swine flu pandemic reveal that we are more concerned with the pandemic’s financial effects than we are with its human effects, we have crossed the line from managing money to loving it. And that is sinful. For the people who are suffering from this dreaded ailment must be more precious to us than the money that is lost from it. After all, we are called by Jesus to love people. People belong in our hearts. Money only belongs in our checkbook.
Second, it is important to note that the love of money, although it is “a” root of all evil, is not “the” root of all evil. There have been some who have told me, quite glibly, “I don’t love money. I don’t have a problem with greed.” For argument’s sake, let’s grant that for a moment. That does not mean that there is not another root of evil which can plague a person’s soul. By using the indefinite article “a” rather than the definite “the,” Paul reminds us that we, as sinful, fallen, broken human beings, have the propensity to multiply roots of evil ad infinitum. If the love of money isn’t a person’s particular root of evil, there is sure to be another root lurking not too far away. Arrogance is not an appropriate response to Paul’s warning here. For Paul’s warning indicts us all.
With this in mind, perhaps today is a day for a bit of soul-searching. Ask yourself, “What roots of evil are growing in my life?” Then confess them to God, asking for his forgiveness. And, above all, remember that you need not be enslaved by these roots of evil. For you are a beloved child of God, set free from sin by Christ’s cross. Thus, as Paul promises, you can “flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness” (verse 11). Roots of evil need not take root in your heart. For your heart is not a place for sin to grow, it is a place for Christ to dwell. Praise God that our hearts are Christ’s home.
This past weekend, we had some friends, who were attending a wedding here in town, stay with us in the not-so-lavish accommodations of our two bedroom apartment. The inadequacy of the lodging aside, it was a great time. I had a chance to catch up with a friend of mine who I went to seminary with. And while some of our conversation was lighthearted and jocular, some of it was more subdued and serious. Our conversation took on an especially weighty tone Sunday afternoon when my buddy and I were talking about some of the temptations which war against our souls. I expressed to my friend my own shortcomings and how I can sometimes arrogantly boast in what I do well while simultaneously trying to downplay what I do poorly. “Don’t worry,” my friend retorted, “You’re not fooling anybody. Even though you may try to cover up your shortcomings, we still know what they are.” I chuckled at my friend’s response. Mainly, because he was absolutely correct. I can try to manage my image and make myself look better than I really am all I want to. But I’m not fooling anybody, especially those closest to me. For they know that I am a sinful, flawed, broken individual.
In our reading for today from 1 Timothy 5, Paul reminds us that, in spite of our best efforts to cover up our sinfulness, we’re not fooling anybody. Paul says, “The sins of some men are obvious, reaching the place of judgment ahead of them” (verse 24). Paul says that, for many of us, our sinfulness is so apparent that our reputations precede us. There’s no use trying to plaster on an air of phony righteousness in front of others, for word about us has already gotten around. But even if some manage to maintain a veneer of piety for a good long while, Paul continues, “The sins of others trail behind them” (verse 24). That is, we will be found out for who we really are, even if it takes a while. We’re not fooling anybody.
Contrast this with what Paul says about good deeds: “In the same way, good deeds are obvious, and even those that are not cannot be hidden” (verse 25). Paul says, just as our sins come to light, so do our good deeds, even if our good deeds are not at first readily apparent. In fact, good deeds, by their very nature, are often not readily apparent, but are done clandestinely, for this is just as Jesus commands:
Be careful not to do your “acts of righteousness” before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. (Matthew 6:1-4)
Truly good deeds have a secretive edge to them, says Jesus. In fact, I have found a fascinating dynamic that seems to regularly work in the hearts and lives of God’s people: Those who do the most good are often the least boastful about their “acts of righteousness” and the most honest about their sins and follies. Conversely, there are others who are not nearly so concerned with the “acts of righteousness” that Jesus commands, but will gladly announce and receive kudos for any good work that they might do while, at the same time, working vigorously to cover up their transgressions. I am ashamed to admit that, all too often, I fall into this latter category.
What, then, is the upshot of Paul’s admonition in 1 Timothy 5? Simply this: Honestly confess your sins and do good in Jesus’ name. Don’t try to fool anybody. After all, it won’t work anyway. For this is the condition of every Christian: he is a sinner who transgresses God’s law while also being a saint who does Jesus’ “acts of righteousness.” And thank God we’re all in this condition together. For it is this universal condition that allows us to offer Christ’s forgiveness to each other in our sin, all the while encouraging each other with Christ’s righteousness.
Periodically, my wife Melody and I have the pleasure of babysitting our two little nephews, Noah and Nicholas. And, much to my chagrin, Noah and Nicholas, along with my wife and her sister, can sometimes prove to be picky eaters. I guess it’s something that runs in the family. That means that, if food is placed in front of my nephews and they don’t particularly care for it, they’ll stare at it with a mild disgust, refusing even to try it. But then comes the injunction from either Melody or I: “You have to at least try a bite.” And after a little more placid prodding, they’ll usually pick up their forks, taste the dish, and then immediately return their forks to their plates and say, “I’m done. I tried it! Can I go now?” At which point Melody will usually chime in: “Can I go now? That’s not how you ask. What do you say?” Remembering their manners, and anxious to leave the table so they can go play, they’ll respond, “Can I be excused, please?”
These words are words that we all have to use from time to time: “Can I be excused, please?” If I’m in the middle of a conversation and I receive a phone call that I have to take, I’ll always say, “Excuse me for a moment, please.” Or if Melody and I get invited to a party that we cannot attend, I’ll often tell the host, “I’m sorry. Could you excuse us from your party? We already have prior plans.”
In our reading for today from 1 Timothy 4, Paul talks about the importance, and even the necessity, of being able to excuse yourself from certain situations: “Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales” (verse 7). The Greek word for the phrase “have nothing to do with” is pareiteomai, meaning “to excuse oneself.” Indeed, this is the word that Jesus uses in a parable that he tells about a man who holds a dinner, only to have the invitees pareiteomai themselves: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’ Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me’” (Luke 14:15-19). And although the excuses of the people in Jesus’ story were clearly illegitimate, Paul explains that there are times when a person has a legitimate reason to excuse him or herself, such as when people are gossiping, telling “old wives’ tales.”
I wonder how much dissension and distrust could be avoided if we would simply follow Paul’s sage advice in 1 Timothy 4:7. If someone is talking bad about someone else, if someone is using ungodly speech, simply excuse yourself! Simply say, “I’m not sure I want to a part of this conversation. Would you please excuse me?” And then walk away. Yet, so often, we don’t. Instead, we listen interestedly as someone breathlessly recounts the raucous details of someone else’s sordid life.
Part of the tragedy of not excusing yourself from such godless chatter, Paul says, is that you have less time to devote yourself to talk and words that are righteous. That is why Paul later instructs Timothy: “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and teaching” (verse 13). Excuse yourself from gossipy words. Devote yourself to God’s Word. This is Paul’s instruction.
So today, if someone begins a conversation with a phrase like, “You wouldn’t believe what I just heard about…” and then proceeds to gossip, won’t you politely and gently excuse yourself from the conversation? After all, you have some better words to listen to. For you have God’s Word to listen to.
This past week, Concordia had the pleasure and honor of hosting the Pastoral Leadership Institute, a gathering of 400 pastors and pastor’s wives from all over the country, along with some international guests. During this conference, these men and women were trained and encouraged so that they may better serve the ministries in which God has placed them. Some bear the brunt of challenging and harrying situations and need support. Others are looking for new insights into how to reach out to their communities. All are walking through a continuing education process as they learn how to faithfully serve their congregations and their Lord. As I had opportunity to meet a few of the participants, I came to believe more than ever that these men and women deserve our thanks, prayers, and support. They are a blessing to the Kingdom of God.
“Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task” (verse 1). So Paul opens our reading for today from 1 Timothy 3. What follows is a description of the virtues vital to being a pastor in the church of God:
Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. (verses 2-6)
Many times, as I have read these words, I have felt woefully inadequate. I wish I could say that I live out all of these virtues gracefully and magnanimously, but I do not. I am most certainly not above reproach, for I am a sinner. I have been known to lose my self-control and become less than respectable. And although I do not particularly love money, I can think of many other things for which I am greedy. I fall painfully short of this list. Then again, so do you. Then again, so does everyone.
What, then, is the point of this list of virtues if no one, whether pastor or otherwise, can live up to them? Is it merely to make us feel guilty? Hardly.
The Greek word for “sets his heart” in verse 1 is oregomai. This word describes a “longing” or a “yearning” – something to which one aspires. And it is this word that frames Paul’s discussion of the virtues that he outlines in the subsequent verses. For Paul knows that no one displays these virtues perfectly. Yet, these are all virtues to which we should oregomai. For these are all holy virtues which reflect the nature and character of our Heavenly Father. This is why 400 ministry leaders visited our campus this past week. Because they oregomai to 1 Timothy 3 and wanted to better serve our Lord and his church. You too should oregomai to the virtues of 1 Timothy 3, whether or not you are a pastor. For these are virtues for us all.
No, you will not live out these virtues perfectly. However, by God’s grace and Spirit, you can indeed grow in these virtues. As Paul writes elsewhere, “Become imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1-2). Notice the first word: “become.” We’re not perfect in our imitation of God, but we are becoming imitators of God, one step at a time.
So today, ask yourself, what can I do, however imperfectly, to aspire to 1 Timothy 3? Maybe it’s practicing patience when you feel like you’re going to lose your temper. Maybe it’s being hospitable when you would rather be left alone. Maybe it’s setting aside a struggle with greed for a generous spirit. Whatever it is, remember, God’s grace empowers you and his Spirit guides you. So go and do his noble tasks.
Today’s blog is of a slightly different nature than my normal posts. 1 Timothy 2 constitutes one of the most controversial chapters in all Scripture. Why? First, many accuse Paul of revealing his true stripes of misogyny and unabashed chauvinism in his injunction against female pastors as outlined in this chapter. Second, many church bodies, including our own Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, understand Paul’s words here to be transcultural. That is, his instruction relates not only to the first century, but also to our twenty-first century. Thus, in the LCMS, we do not ordain women as pastors.
Because of the debate and dispute surrounding this chapter, I have decided to post a brief theological study that I wrote a while back due in large part to the many questions that I perennially receive on this particular passage of Scripture. This study represents my humble, and most probably feeble, attempt to explain Paul’s words in a way that affirms his integrity and, more importantly, the integrity of God’s Word. I offer it below in the hope that it might be of some value to you as you struggle with these difficult words from 1 Timothy 2 in your “Word for Today” reading. Remember, even when a text is controversial, it is well worth our time and attention. For the words of Scripture are the very words of God. Thus, they speak to our minds, our souls, our hearts, and our lives and transform us into precious new creations in Christ.
With that, here is the study:
In 1 Timothy 2:11-15, Paul writes to a young pastor named Timothy:
A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing – if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.
There are several things in this passage that are worth noting.
First, the context of this passage is important. Paul begins this chapter by explaining the inclusive nature of the gospel:
I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men – the testimony given in its proper time. (1 Timothy 2:1-6)
If you note, Paul consistently talks about how the gospel is for “all people.” Thus, it is not because women are somehow lesser heirs to the gospel that they are not permitted to be pastors. No, God gives his gospel to all because his deepest desire is that all be saved.
Second, a couple of words are worth noting in 1 Timothy 2:11-15. First is the word “learn” in verse 11. When we read the words of this verse, the first word that usually jumps out to us is “submission.” But for Paul’s readers, to have learning women would have represented a radical departure from the cultural mores of his time. In general, women were not permitted to learn theology. Rabbi Eliezer, a prominent teacher in the first and second centuries, wrote, “He who teaches her daughter Torah teaches her obscenity.” That is, women were not to be taught Scripture because they were not intellectually astute enough to handle it. Conversely, Paul, encourages women to learn God’s Word, but says they also ought to learn politely. In other words, they ought to be quiet during the sermon and submissive to the clear teachings of God’s Word (as we all are to be). The second key word is the word “teach” in verse 12. The context of this word refers to the preaching of the Word of God in a worship service, not to any and every kind of teaching. That is why there is prayer and the raising of hands going on in verse 8. This is worship! Thus, women are precluded from being pastors who preach, not Sunday school teachers or even participants in a worship service in other ways, such as in the reading of Scripture or in the singing of songs.
Third, it is important to note that when Paul makes a distinction between men and women and what they do in a worship service, he is in no way saying that one person is better than another. As Paul has already noted at the beginning of this chapter, we are all precious and valued in God’s sight. Paul is saying, however, that God, in his wisdom, has chosen to give some people some roles and other people other roles in worship and in life in general. Indeed, God has been doing this ever since creation. Paul says in verse 13 that Adam and Eve themselves were different from their very creation. One was made from dust, the other from a rib. Does this make one better than the other? No. It just makes them different. Sadly, even in sin men and women proved to be different (verse 14). Eve was conned by Satan, Adam was led to sin by Eve. Thus, differences abound. Yet, in spite of sin, each person still has a special role to play in God’s Kingdom. Paul says that the special role of pastor is to be given to some men who are appropriately trained for the job (see 1 Timothy 3:1-7). That does not mean that women do not have a special role to play, however. Paul concludes chapter 2 with these words: “But women will be saved through childbearing – if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.” I have done quite a bit of study on this passage in Greek, and my best translation would differ from the NIV, quoted here. I, along with many others, translate this passage: “But women will be saved through the child born.” In other words, women are saved by the One who is born of a woman only, Jesus Christ. It is here that Paul commends women for their special and unique role in salvation history. When God wanted to save humanity, he chose a woman, not a man, to bear his Son. Indeed, a man had nothing to do with it, for Jesus was born of a virgin. This birth was first foretold to Eve by God in Genesis 3:15 when God says to Satan: “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” God says that he will send a Savior who will crush the head of Satan. But notice, this Savior will be only the offspring of Eve, not of Adam. Thus, we find here the first foreshadowing of a virgin birth. Women, then, from Eve on, have a special connection to the Savior. For God chose a woman to bear his Savior Son, Jesus Christ. That is a role unique and specific to women just as being a pastor is a role unique and specific to some men.
Finally, the upshot of all of this is that God chooses different people for different tasks. God chose Abraham to be the father of Israel. He chose Moses to lead his people out of slavery Egypt. He chose Joshua to lead the people into the Promised Land. He chose Deborah as a judge over Israel. He chose Esther to save the Jews from an evil plot aimed at their extinction. He chose twelve disciples to follow his Son Jesus and an apostle named Paul to spread the gospel to the Gentiles. God is constantly choosing certain people for certain tasks. Does this mean that he loves some people more than others or thinks more of some people than he does of others? No, of course not. But God, in his infinite wisdom, always seems to know the right person or people for the right job. Thus, God has chosen some men to be pastors in his church and a woman to bear his Son. Praise God for the unique roles we all have to play in his Kingdom.
This past Tuesday, I went to lunch at Taco Cabana with a buddy of mine. When it comes to fast food, I have two favorite restaurants: Whataburger and Taco Cabana. The problem is that although I dearly love the Whataburger with jalapenos as well as the giant Cabana bowl of queso, they don’t love me back. Because for a few years now, I’ve suffered from a weak stomach. Thus, whenever I eat there, Tums quickly become my intimate post-meal friends.
Of course, I can eat at these restaurants with minimal ill effects as long as I eat reasonably small portions. Ashamedly, however, my eyes usually prove to be bigger than my stomach and I wind up overeating and then paying the painful consequences. And this is what happened on Tuesday. I felt sick all afternoon. The food was good, but for me, it was too much of a good thing.
Too much of a good thing. This is an insightful maxim that accuses all too many of us. For we all fall prey to the allure of over-indulgence. Food is a good thing. But too much of it can cause all sorts of disastrous health problems. Money is a good thing. But too much of it, if not managed wisely and humbly, can breed greed. Sleep is a good thing. But too much of it can make you feel groggy and hinder productivity. In just about every area of life, a good thing can quickly turn harmful if over-used or misused.
As we begin reading through 1 Timothy, Paul opens in chapter 1 by warning Timothy to guard against those who would fall into the trap of obsessing over too much of a good thing: “As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. These promote controversies rather than God’s work – which is faith” (verses 3-4). The Greek root word for “controversies” is zetesis. In the ancient world, this was a technical term for philosophical investigation. This term described philosophers who would discuss what may have at first glance appeared to be minutia, but, in reality, pressed toward significant and profound answers concerning important matters. Indeed, this is the term that is used in Acts 15:1-2 during a weighty theological debate over circumcision: “Some men came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the brothers: ‘Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.’ This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them.” The Greek word for “debate” is zetesis. The upshot of this zetesis was the critical pronouncement that circumcision was not necessary for salvation because “it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved” (Acts 15:11). In this instance, zetesis was a good thing. But as the old saying goes, too much of a good thing…
This brings us back to 1 Timothy 1. Apparently, there were some in Timothy’s church who “devoted themselves to myths and endless genealogies.” A myth is not necessarily a bad thing. For these often serve as pleasant children’s tales. Neither is genealogical research bad. Knowing one’s roots can be an eye-opening experience. But notice that these people “devoted” themselves to these things. That is, they obsessed over them and thereby caused controversies, or zetesis. Interestingly, when Paul writes about these controversies, he calls them not just zetesis, but adds a prefix and calls them exzetesis. We use this prefix even in English: excursive, excoriate, extreme, excessive. This prefix, in many instances, marks too much of a good thing.
“Moderation is better than muscle” (Proverbs 16:32). So says the wise man Solomon. And Solomon was a man who knew well the dangers of exzetesis. For he was a man with much fame, much power, and much money. And, tellingly, he used it irresponsibly and excessively at times. And it cost him dearly. So today, enjoy God’s good gifts. But remember to enjoy them in a good way – in the way that God intended them and not for sinful exzetesis. For the gifts of God, used in the way God intended them, bring exceeding joy. And that’s an ex that we can indulge in. Because that’s an ex that’s from God.
Maybe you did this when you were in junior high as well. During my pre-pubescent years, reputation and status became increasingly important to me and my peers. This means that we would, often in very awkward and sometimes comical ways, regularly boast to each other concerning achievements and accomplishments which had little or no basis in reality. I can remember one time when I was fighting with a friend of mine over whose father made more money – mine or his. After some verbal sparring that began in the $50,000 a year range, our fathers’ respective salaries quickly skyrocketed well into the six and even seven figure stratosphere, well beyond the limits of what we both knew our fathers actually made. Finally, after several rounds of bickering over paternal salaries, I said to my friend, “Well I live in a mansion! What do you live in?” To which my friend replied, “You don’t live in a mansion! I’ve been over to your house before.” Apparently, I had gotten so caught up in the heat of the moment that I forgot that my friend knew where I really lived. So much for my attempt to impress my friend with affluence I didn’t have.
In our reading for today from Galatians 6, Paul warns the Christians at Galatia against some religious folks “who want to make a good impression outwardly and are trying to compel you to be circumcised” (verse 12). The Greek word for “make a good impression” is euprosopeo, meaning literally “to give a good face.” These religious folks, it seems, were trying to “save face,” as it were, among their Jewish colleagues for whom circumcision was a mandatory rite, meant to mark one off as a person of God. They feared persecution from these Jews (cf. verse 12) and so tried to compel as many Galatian Christians as possible to become circumcised. Whatever success they had, they then quickly boasted about in an attempt to further galvanize their Jewish friends.
Paul, however, is not impressed by these religious folks’ attempt to bolster their status and reputation among the Jews by boasting in the number of circumcisions they can claim. “May I never boast,” Paul exclaims, “except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (verse 14). Paul feels no need to try to euprosopeo with anyone. He will not boast in how much money his father makes. And he will not boast in how many people he has circumcised. Instead, he boasts in Christ and Christ alone.
It is all too easy, whether in puberty or as an adult, to seek to impress others by our affluence, accolades, and accomplishments. But in the end, all of these supposedly “boast-worthy” resume-builders are worthless. As Paul says concerning circumcision, “Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything” (verse 15). For “what is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight” (Luke 16:15). As Christians, we are called to boast not in what we do, but in a bloodied, bruised, and beaten Savior, so seemingly unimpressive and even appalling to the world, yet precious to God. Indeed, Jesus’ work on the cross is altogether salvific and sanctifying.
So today, when you’re tempted to boast in yourself, no matter how little or how slyly, instead, lift high the cross of Christ. After all, in the eternal scheme of things, Christ’s work is much more impressive than any work we could ever hope to do. So if we’re going to boast in something, we might as well boast in something really good. We might as well boast in the best. And so, we boast in Christ.
It seems that, over the years, local and state governments, along with their federal counterpart, have managed to draft laws which legislate just about every conceivable scenario, occasion, and behavior. Indeed, many of these laws sound quite silly and esoteric. For example, in Blythe, California, you are not allowed to wear cowboy boots unless you already own at least two cows. In Kentucky, it is illegal to dye a duckling blue and sell it unless more than six are for sale at once. In Massachusetts, it is unlawful for mourners to eat more than three sandwiches at a wake. Even in our great state of Texas, a recently passed anticrime law requires criminals 24 hours notice, either in writing or orally, explaining to their victims the nature of the crime to be committed. Remember that if you’re planning to commit a crime this week. Government bureaucracy at its most humorous.
In our reading for today from Galatians 5, Paul pens some of the most famous and beloved words in all Scripture: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self control” (verses 22-23). With these words, Paul outlines a list of virtues, fueled by and founded on Christ’s Spirit, that ought to be displayed in the life of every Christian. But he then continues with these marvelous words: “Against such things there is no law.” In other words, in a world that seems so overly legislated and regulated and moderated, there are still a few things that you are free to do and be. There are still a few things that aren’t illegal. And these things are the things of the Spirit.
Sadly, even in spite of Paul’s declaration of freedom which liberates us to unreservedly live out the fruit of the Spirit, some still try to temper these virtues. “It’s okay to be loving,” someone might say, “but there are limits to love. I mean, love fades. And some people hurt you so much, you just can’t love them anymore.” To which Paul would respond, “No! You’re allowed to love even the most unlovable among us. Against love, there is no law.” Others might say, “I consider myself to be a pretty patient person, but my patience still eventually runs out. After all, the line at the Whataburger drive-thru at 5:30 pm will try anyone’s patience!” To which Paul would respond, “It’s okay to be patient even when the line is long and the service is slow. And it’s okay to be courteous to your servers too. Against patience, there is no law.” Still others might say, “I’m all about being self-controlled, but I don’t want to come off as some sort of up-tight religious fanatic. I need to let my hair down every once in a while and ‘live a little.’ Sure, my actions may be a little on the risqué side, but everyone loses control from time to time. It’s just part of life.” To which Paul would once more respond, “Truthfully, you’re allowed to practice self-control even when you’re ‘living a little.’ Just because you drink doesn’t mean you have to get drunk. Just because you share a dance doesn’t mean you have to take it farther. Against self-control, there is no law.”
Paul opens Galatians 5 with these words: “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” (verse 1). All too often, we exchange our freedom in Christ for a burden of sinfulness. But Paul reminds us that it doesn’t have to be this way. We are free to be full of the Spirit’s fruit. We are free to let go of our sinful past. We are free to live by the Spirit. In a world full of laws, against those things, there is no law. So today, celebrate your freedom and say “no” to the law of sin and “yes” to the fruit of Christ’s Spirit.
In the state of Oregon where I grew up, there was a rite of passage into manhood that every young teenage boy looked forward to and hoped for and dreamed of – the day he would turn 15 and be able to get a state issued, small, rectangular piece of plastic with his picture on it, otherwise known a Learner’s Permit. I’ll never forget how excited I was when I was finally able to get one. As the DMV employee took my picture, I beamed with pride and joy. For I would finally be able to put the keys into the ignition of our family car, stick my foot on the gas pedal, and cruise down the road effortlessly and carefreely with the windows rolled down, the radio turned up, and the wind blowing through my hair. Or so, that’s what I thought.
My parents did not seem quite as thrilled as I was at the prospect that I was now driving. And thus, the first time I got behind the wheel did not quite match with my envisioned expectations. For there was no carefree attitude, no windows rolled down, no radio turned up, and no wind blowing through my hair. In fact, there wasn’t even a road. Instead, there was just an empty parking lot. “Make sure you’re in neutral,” my dad instructed, “and press down on the clutch. Now, while you’re on the clutch, shift into first, and then slowly release the clutch while you’re pressing down on the gas.” So that’s what I did. And the car lurched forward. And then stalled. So much for my long awaited rite of passage into manhood.
Just as there are certain rites of passage into adulthood in our society, there were rites of passage into adulthood even in first century society. For example, in ancient Rome, usually at age 14, a young man would celebrate his Liberalia, a festival held annually on March 17 celebrating the passage of Roman boys into manhood. At this festival, a young man would discard his childhood toga, which was decorated with a purple border to mark him as a youth, and exchange it for a toga virilis, or a pure white toga, that marked him as an adult and a legal citizen of Rome. Before this time, a Roman boy, even though he may have been the eventual heir of his father’s estate, had the same status as a common slave. He could make no decisions and he had no freedom.
It is probably this festival of Liberalia that Paul has in mind when he writes these words in our reading for today from Galatians 4: “What I am saying is that as long as the heir is a child, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate. He is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father. So also, when we were children, we were in slavery to the basic principles of the world” (verses 1-3). In these verses, Paul draws upon the tradition of the Liberalia to illustrate our spiritual state before faith in Christ. To paraphrase: “Before trusting in Christ, we were just like children before their Liberalia. No rights. No say. No freedom. Indeed, we were slaves to sin and the waywardness of the world. We wore not a toga of purple, but rags stained with sin to mark us as spiritually childish” (cf. Isaiah 64:6). But then came the Liberalia of Christ: “But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, that we might receive the full rights of sons” (verses 4-5). “Christ and his cross is our Liberalia,” Paul says. Christ moves us from spiritual childhood to spiritual adulthood. He liberates us from our slavery to Satan and leads us to freedom in the gospel. He exchanges our toga stained with sin for the pure white toga of his righteousness (cf. Revelation 7:9). Christ and his cross is our rite of passage. But not just into adulthood. Instead, he is our very rite of passage into salvation.
So today, don your white toga of Christ and celebrate. You’re all grown up now.
One of the great concerns looming on the American political landscape these days are the endless bailout packages relentlessly being pushed through Washington DC. A bailout for the subprime mortgage lenders. A bailout for Wall Street. A bailout for the automakers. Many Americans, in the face of such astronomical government spending, are suffering from what has been popularly deemed as “bailout fatigue,” both because they are exhausted by the expenditures of countless dollars and because many are not so sure that even these huge injections of capital into ailing industries will actually accomplish its stated goal of stimulus. Indeed, one of the most pointed questions concerning these bailout packages was posed last month by Representative Gresham Barrett from South Carolina to Timothy Geithner, Secretary of the Treasury, when he asked, “The $64 trillion question is, ‘What’s the backup plan?’ I mean, if everything fails, what do we do?” Geithner’s response was clear and unequivocal: “Congressman, this plan will work.” In other words, there’s no need for a plan b because Geithner’s plan a is so sure and sturdy.
When reading the Bible, many people assume that the Old Testament and the New Testament represent God’s plan a and plan b respectively. In the Old Testament, we meet a man named Moses who “lays down the law,” so to speak, with the Ten Commandments and other such pedagogical guidance. Tragically, however, the ancient Israelites break these laws and so require salvation from their transgressions. Enter the New Testament and God’s plan b of Jesus who comes not with the law of God, but with the grace of God to forgive us our sins. Such is the view of many Christians.
As popular as this view might be among many of the faithful, we learn in our reading for today from Galatians 3 that it’s incorrect. The Old Testament was not God’s plan a the New Testament is not God’s plan b. Instead, throughout the ages, there has been only one plan: Jesus. Indeed, Paul says that Abraham, who lived in the Old Testament and 430 years before Moses received the law from God, knew of only one divine plan. And this divine plan was the plan of Jesus: “The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say ‘and to seeds,’ meaning many people, but ‘and to your seed,’ meaning one person, who is Christ” (verse 16). Paul, quoting Genesis 12:7, insists that God planned to save the world through Jesus and his grace all along. He never planned to save us through a laundry list of laws.
What, then, is the purpose of Moses and the law? Paul says, “It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come…So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith” (verses 19, 24). The purpose of the law was simply to point us to God’s singular plan of Christ and the salvation to be found in him and him alone.
Why is this important? For two reasons. First, it reminds us that our salvation is not of our own doing. It is not due to our own morality, integrity, intelligence, or decency. Our salvation is wholly the work of Christ. Second, it reminds us that we need never fear whether or not God’s plan of salvation will work. After all, it’s not as if God tried to save us through the law of Moses, but then that didn’t work and so now he’s trying to save us through the cross of Christ, and if that doesn’t work, maybe he’ll try something else. No. God’s plan has always and only been Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins and the salvation of our souls. “But,” we may ask, “What’s the backup plan? I mean, if Jesus fails, what do we do?” To which our heavenly Father responds, “This plan will work.” Indeed, this plan already has worked. For Christ has already conquered sin, death, and Satan. And he’s surer and sturdier than even a bailout package.