Eugene Cho: Uncommon Fellowship and Samaria (Notes from Catalyst)

Eugene Cho (aka NOT Francis Chan) was amazing. Founding and Lead Pastor at Quest Church as well as the founder of One Days Wages, this is a man on fire for God and people. He started his time with us in John 4:1-10:

Now Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that he was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John— although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples. So he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee. Now he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon. When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

He highlighted the fact that it said, “Now he had to go through Samaria.” First, let us remember that Jesus didn’t have to do anything. It’s also important to understand that there was a long and complicated history had led the Jewish people and the Samaritans to this point in time, at which they were completely divided. That meant that while it took 3-4x longer to travel around Samaria rather than just pass through it, concerns around cleanliness and safety practically make it a requirement for a faithful Jew.

In fact, we can get a feel for the sentiment when we consider the most common prayer of gratitude prayed by Pharisee’s in public at that time. They would give thanks to God that they were made Jew and not Gentile, free and not slave, man and not woman. We can see this prayer specifically addressed in a revolutionary way through Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Eugene Cho talked about how we, as a church love to TALK about our “Samaria” but that it is a totally different thing to walk through Samaria. He used the example of exercise. The idea of exercise is engaging and we can read and talk about it to such an extent that we can become very knowledgeable in the topic. But it’s a very different thing to know how to run a marathon well, what you need, etc. than to actually train and run for a marathon. Must people don’t want to do that. When it comes to us and our Samaria, we need to not just talk about it, but live with it in the very core of our very being, resting in the truth that all people are created in the image of God. If God’s grace is sufficient for you then you must believe that it is sufficient for the Other.

In truth, some of the most difficult people to lead to Christ are actually Christians. In the story of the Samaritan woman, as well as many other stories of miracles and healing, Jesus stops. He looks in their eyes. He shows them he sees them. Consider the story in Luke 8:43-48:

And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years, but no one could heal her. She came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped. “Who touched me?” Jesus asked. When they all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the people are crowding and pressing against you.” But Jesus said, “Someone touched me; I know that power has gone out from me.” Then the woman, seeing that she could not go unnoticed, came trembling and fell at his feet. In the presence of all the people, she told why she had touched him and how she had been instantly healed. Then he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.”

Jesus, as Eugene Cho pointed out, didn’t need to ask who had touched him. He knew. But this is where he shows us that he is a King who stops and looks into the eyes of his people and meets their needs. His people were the rejected, the sick, the poor, the oppressed and the suffering, and his ministry was impactful because he didn’t draw lines to divide people; he crossed them to build community.

If the Church fails to be like Christ, it loses it’s impact. In our current times where communities, cities and countries exist in such divisive states the Church oftentimes remains homogenous and therefore ineffective. This is hardly surprising. We don’t become a different person on Sunday; it’s a reflection of who we are and the relationships we have Monday through Saturday. Consider the following infograph that he referenced:

black-friends-white-friends

From the perspective of the white person we see that they, statistically speaking, create an environment were the “Other” is generally not truly included or understood. It would certainly be challenging for the friend who is the only black friend to feel truly comfortable being their authentic self. It is also challenging to gain a true depth of knowledge regarding the complexities of race through the perspective of so few minority individuals. The end result of these homogenous environments is an inability to see or recognize the systemic issues that are faced by people who aren’t white.

But there’s an even bigger problem. Sometimes in those environments the idea of systemic racism is called into question. Isn’t it, they say, really a sin issue? And Eugene Cho’s response to this question is, “Of course.” BUT when sinful people gather together, they will create a culture that eventually includes systems and structures that are relevant to them and which benefit them. This is why racism is and continues to be systemic; we continue to operate in lives that are largely segregated and hardly reflect the uncommon fellowship that Jesus calls us to and models.

So what do we do? We confess to one another. We confront the places where we aren’t reflecting the Gospel. We speak Truth, we dismantle systems of oppression and segregation, we reconcile ourselves as individuals and communities. This will be a testimony to the power of the Gospel and it’s ability to transform us today. As we consider what this looks like for each of us in our lives, I want to return, as Eugene Cho did, to the story of the Samaritan woman. In this account we see what can happen when we pause, see another and meet them where they are. In this story, her encounter led her to join missio dei:

Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. And because of his words many more became believers. They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.” John 4:39-42

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Craig Groeschel (Notes from Catalyst)

Craig Groeschel was the first speaker at the Catalyst conference that focused on Uncommon Fellowship. As the pastor of the largest church in the United States which spans 8 states and has 26 sites, he has quite a bit of wisdom around what it takes to build a community, and in particular, the uncommon community we find in the new testament.

He spoke about how most things that are uncommon are uncommon because they are uncomfortable. We, as a nation, worship the comfortable, and yet growth and comfort do not co-exist. We share a common enemy who wants to steal the unity that can exist in the body of Christ, an enemy who wants to keep us in the comfortable so that we can’t know the beauty and hope found in unity. Jesus prays a lot in the bible but his specific prayers are rarely documented. However, in John 17 we get the words that Jesus prayed for all believers to experience this special unity:

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world. Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.” John 17:21-26

Jesus prays that we would know the unity that the triune God knows and experiences through their relationship with one another. Craig Groeschel then provides 4 key points around how to build and develop the unity Jesus prays for.

  1. We desperately need each other. UNITY IS NOT UNIFORMITY. The diversity of our stories, our pasts, our denominations and methods for ministry is a powerful tool for expanding the kingdom of God. As it says in Romans 12:5: “so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.”
  2. We err on the side of being FOR, not AGAINST. Instead of building yourself up on what you see as a weakness, build the case for your church or organization on your strengths. There is no value in tearing another down when we all have the same mission.
  3. We are going to give everything we can to strengthen others. We support each others ministries, we support each others churches. We celebrate when another congregation is growing because it means that the body of Christ is growing. Responding with generosity instead of jealousy, we can come closer to what we read about in Acts 4:32-35 “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.”
  4. We love like Jesus loved. WE CAN’T ALL BE RIGHT, BUT WE CAN ALL BE LOVING. We need to love people who need love and grace. People of this world are tired of hearing about the love of Christ, they want to see him. It’s about less of the gospel being preached and more of it being lived. Matthew 5:44 tells us, “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” and Luke 6:28 says, “bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” And perhaps most importantly, remembering that Jesus was pretty specific about how people would recognize us as disciples of him: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35)

The Apostle Paul

            The Apostle Paul is such an extraordinary figure both historically and spiritually. What is it about this man that draws so many people to him, that makes him both so relatable and yet so elusive? Paul follows the trajectory of so many of our favorite hero stories. A man rises up from average, pride propelling him forward until he’s toppled into humility. In this story, our prideful man encounters Jesus and is humbled, and this humility transforms him into one of the best superheroes the world has ever seen: a man trying to model cruciform love for the world. And this encounter, and the love he tries to teach the world, ends up filling up half the New Testament, shaping the faith of Christianity, and setting much of the standard for what it means to follow Christ.

When we look at the world in which Paul lived, it seems very foreign, but there is also something very relatable in it. There are many times when all of us feel as if the world is shrinking and we are surrounded by a multitude of cultures and diversity; the same can be said for the Apostle Paul. As we seek to understand the man, we must first understand his background, the world from which he came. For Paul, it would more aptly be described as worlds: his Mediterranean culture, the Roman Empire’s influence, and his Judaism were the three biggest spheres of influence.

            The Mediterranean was Hellenized starting with the triumph of Alexander the Great and Greek culture continued to spread. “A somewhat simplified form of classical Greek, koine (common) Greek, became the norm for conducting commercial and business affairs, as well as for most other forms of communication; it is the language of the New Testament.” (Gorman, pg. 2) This Greek thought and language even permeated Jewish culture and Scriptures in many regions. Additionally, there was a group identity within the Mediterranean. As we see referenced often in the bible, their was that to live is to be part of the body, not alone as an individual (this is known as a dyadic culture). Feeding into this dyadic culture is a system of esteem from others where honor and shame is highly sought after and “…based primarily on such things as wealth, education, rhetoric skill, family pedigree, and political connections.” (Gorman, pg. 4) Since group solidarity was of the upmost importance, social structure ended up defaulting into very hierarchal structures. At the top were a small elite and at the bottom were the vast and unclean expendables. It is important to note very few in Jewish communities were ever part of the elite; they did, however, have their own hierarchy that operated in a similar fashion. At the center of the hierarchy is, of course, it’s patriarchy. “The male head of household governed his own little universe, with his wife, children, and slaves as personal property. This gave free men power and privilege in their own homes, even if nowhere else.” (Gorman, pg. 6) Another attribute of this hierarchy would be the foundation of it; slavery. “In urban areas a significant percentage of all inhabitants were slaves….even smaller households often had a few slaves…” (Gorman, pg. 7) Slaves in the Mediterranean weren’t based on race, but were made, found, or self-made. Freedom was an option if the person who owned them was willing to grant it.

            The second sphere Paul operated in was the Roman Empire. The phrase pax Romana, or Roman peace, ended the civil unrest in Rome and brought peace to a large swath of land. Born around 27 BC, Roman law, virtues, gods, roads, etc. spread everywhere, as well as the worship of Roman emperors. “…As ancients and moderns alike have often assumed, no one but (a) god could subdue and then control a huge portion of the known world. From the time of Julius on, Caesar was not only the top political but also the top religious figure…” (Gorman, 15) To keep pax Romana, there was a cost and that was subjugation in the form of enslavement of conquered people, taxes and tributes, and crucifixion and other violent deaths for any noncitizen who was a threat to the empire. Honor was a driving force for Rome within this competitive society of those with means; they competed to outdo one another in projects and civil service. There wasn’t a middle class but there were free people and slaves and still a hierarchy maintained, and there was a lot of interaction between classes when it came to the patron-client relations. To that end, there was a tremendous amount of movement around the empire, made easier by the Roman roads. These roads made it easier for Paul to travel during his ministry but were also dangerous and common for robbery and other dangers. At this same time, emperor worship was in full swing, with shrines in temples for other gods and their own temples in most major cities. It was expected for citizens to worship them. “As magnificent benefactors, Augustus and his imperial successors were given (or took for themselves) titles such as Savior, God and Lord.” (Gorman, pg. 18) Jews mostly enjoyed exemption from this requirement but any message that threated this status (like a Jew proclaiming himself Lord or Savior) could be considered a grave threat to pax Romana.

            The final world we want to understand as a background to Paul is his Judaism, which was known as Second Temple Judaism. Obviously as we read the bible we can tell that there were, in fact, many different types of Jewish sects around and so we understand that, “To be Jewish was to confess and worship the one God YHWH, who had graciously chosen Israel to be God’s distinctive people.” (Gorman, pg. 18) This God entered into a covenantal relationship with the people of Israel, through the Law of Moses. While the Jewish people were allowed some freedoms, they were still a subjugated people to the Romans and had attempted revolt. The Messiah they looked for was going to bring revolutionary activity; they were awaiting deliverance and salvation. There were things that separated the Jews from everyone else: boundary markers that were ritual and religio-ethical. Some of these things include fidelity in marriage, keeping all their children, circumcision, food laws, and holiday observances. Observing these things are what is referred to as covenantal nomism, or keeping the law to stay in covenant with a gracious God. Jews at that time had a lot of disagreement with what was required to remain “clean or holy” and thereby remain in covenant with God. The last attribute to examine at this point is apocalypticism. Because of the oppression that seemed to be never-ending and their hope for a Savior, an apocalyptic viewpoint brought hope to many first century Jewish people that a day of both judgement and salvation was on the horizon. This was paired with a cosmic perspective that there was also a current spiritual war being fought and that in the future resolution would result with God defeating evil. These viewpoints lead to a dualistic view of current and future, of a present state of suffering, evil and injustice with a future state of righteousness, liberation and justice for God’s people.

            Now Paul was born a Jew and lived his entire life as a Jew, “from his early years in Diaspora Judaism, to his life as a Pharisee in Palestine, to his zealous commitment to extinguish the early Jesus movement, to his encounter with the resurrected Jesus, to his subsequent life as apostle of the Jewish God and his crucified Messiah among the Gentiles.” (Gorman, pg. 40) He parents would likely have given him two names, the first being Saul (Saulos), a famous ancestor, and the second Paul (Paullus), a common Roman name. Growing up in Tarsus and born somewhere between 5 BC and 10 AD, it’s likely Paul studied Jewish Scriptures in Greek. Since Tarsus was a cosmopolitan university town with schools for rhetoric and stoicism, both of which are evidenced in his writings. It is likely that is where Paul is exposed to them, although he tries to distance himself from rhetorical showmanship specifically in his letters.

            Eventually Paul moved to Palestine and studied under a rabbi named Gamaliel and was greatly influenced by the Palestinian Jewish culture. “It is clear from his letters that he had a apocalyptic perspective similar to that of other apocalyptic Jews, though it is radically reworked in light of God’s intervention in history through the death and resurrection of the Messiah.” (Gorman, pg. 52) Thus, Paul became the Pharisee many knew him to be from the biblical stories. Pharisees are most known for their zealous keeping of the Law, their obsession with the purity of Israel, and the belief in the bodily resurrection of the dead. It was their obsession with the Law and purity that caused them to pursue so aggressively the separation from Gentiles and furthermore the concern of contamination of Israel from the Christians who were violating the Law through their interactions with those they saw as unclean. In the eyes of the Pharisees, the actions of what we might call the Messianic Jews or Christians were pushing them further and further away from God.

            It is for this reason the Paul persecuted the early Church so aggressively. “Acts says he approved the stoning of Stephen (8:1) and ‘voted’ for the deaths of others (26:10)…” (Gorman, 54) This zealousness was seen as necessary and a protection of the Jewish faith and manifested itself in violence towards the apostate Jews who were violating everything that they should have stood for. Therefore, Paul leaves Damascus for Jerusalem within a few years of Jesus’ death to try to stop this movement. On his journey, Paul encounters the resurrected Christ as a divinely granted revelation. This, to a Pharisee, is one of the three biggest thing in that there is a bodily resurrection of the dead. Paul’s transformative encounter leads him to know that God raised Jesus and that Jesus is the Messiah, that his death was for the sins of others, that it was the beginning of the end of days and that Jesus could be encountered as a living being.

            Furthermore, Paul understood the undeserved mercy being experienced through Christ, and that the persecution and zeal in going after the Church and believers was a huge mistake. All of these things need to be re-evaluated in the light of what God did through Christ. Lastly, God had a plan for the Gentiles, who were to come to God in the last days. Paul notes that God called to him to carry out a commission: “proclaim him [God’s Son] among the Gentiles” (Gorman, pg. 58) Paul’s interpretation of this was that those who were at one time excluded were now to be included in God’s Kingdom.

            Following his encounter, Paul began to live the life of Apostleship. Although there are several benefits that come with being an Apostle, Paul denied them. For him, the responsibility of the Apostle was, “…not primarily about power or authority as they are normally understood. To be an apostle is not merely to preach, but also to live, the gospel.” (Gorman, pg. 61) And live the gospel Paul did. 1 Corinthians 4:12-13 “When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we speak kindly. We have become like the rubbish of the world, the dregs of all things, to this very day.” He lived out a cruciform love in his daily life, demonstrating suffering, sacrifice and weakness.

            Paul does this by doing three things in his travels of over 10,000 miles: “proclaiming the good news, forming communities of Jews and especially Gentiles who believe the good news, and suffering for the good news.” (Gorman, pg. 65) When establishing communities, he had coworkers, three dozen are referenced within his letters. The number of coworkers changed as did their abilities, but Paul was rarely alone in his work. This meant that there were additional costs, and Paul did not rely on the financial support he was owed as an Apostle because he didn’t want to burden the community in which he was working which left him with tent making. Paul did, however, accept financial support from communities that they had already set-up.

            So Paul and his co-workers would find a Jewish community and a place to stay and set-up shop for his tent business. Then he would begin his evangelistic work with the Gentiles in public, accompanied by deeds of Power. He would build community, with Churches meeting in homes and new relationships between people of all types of social and economic backgrounds forming.

            This brought a lot of persecution onto Paul, who experienced a lot of prison and trial time. Although he suffers, he considers it an honor because his suffering brings him closer to the suffering of Christ. “In weakness he finds strength and effectiveness (2 Cor 12:10); in suffering he sees the manifestation of the power of God for the salvation of Gentiles and Jews.” (Gorman, 71) While some believe that Paul was sure that he would see the coming of Christ, others hypothesize that Paul knew he, too, would die for his beliefs. Regardless of Paul’s expectation, based on the history of his life and the relationship he had with God, I would not be surprised to learn that Paul viewed it as an honor to be sacrificed in the shape of Christ’s cruciform love.

Discipleship Is Hard

This is not an easy thing. I suppose it should never be an easy thing, one way or the other. If you are leading someone and not struggling at some points, I would wonder if it doesn’t mean the responsibility is being taken too lightly? And if it is not a struggle to be someone’s disciple, I wonder how much challenge really exists in the relationship? How much growth is being experienced?

Luke 8:22-25 “One day he got into a boat with his disciples, and he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side of the lake.” So they set out, and as they sailed he fell asleep. And a windstorm came down on the lake, and they were filling with water and were in danger. And they went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and the raging waves, and they ceased, and there was a calm. He said to them, “Where is your faith?” And they were afraid, and they marveled, saying to one another, “Who then is this, that he commands even winds and water, and they obey him?”

We have no idea what tone Jesus used when he asked the disciples, “Where is your faith?” But their response of fear, to marvel, to question… it is clear that they are being challenged by their relationship with Jesus.

Luke 9:49-56“Master,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us.” “Do not stop him,” Jesus said, “for whoever is not against you is for you.” As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” But Jesus turned and rebuked them. Then he and his disciples went to another village.

Here you can see Jesus experiencing again and again the challenge of discipleship. While he has repeatedly taught about the Kingdom and the new covenant he was bringing to God’s people (and the disciples have spent a great amount of time with him hearing about it), he has to continue to tell them the most basic things, like those doing work in his name were for them and not against them, and that they should not in fact rain fire down from heaven on a village (on the scale of unloving to totally loving your neighbor, that falls a bit short).

Galatians 5:19-21 “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. “

Paul, a standard setter of fathering followers of Christ and creating a community of believers reproducing believers, struggled with this even more.  He reminded, warned, praised, prayed for, lamented and chastised those he lead. He struggled deeply with them though, speaking harshly and threatening discipline. He took the responsibility seriously and wanted all followers coming through him to understand the reality of their salvation and necessity of their relationship with Christ.

Mark 12:24-27 “Jesus replied, “Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God? When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. Now about the dead rising—have you not read in the Book of Moses, in the account of the burning bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. You are badly mistaken!”

This was the final example I reflected on when I was considering this repeating idea that discipleship is hard. Jesus, when talking to the Sadducees, emphasized the importance of knowing the Scriptures. He didn’t come to abolish it but to fulfill it. He referenced it all of the time and I don’t think it was just because people of that time understood it. It is our story with our Father, our God. It is clear in his words that it isn’t just about knowledge of Scripture, but knowing the power of God. This too must be something we strive to grow in as leaders and challenge growth in for those we lead.

As hard as discipleship is, of course I cannot shake the simultaneous image of the bearing of fruit. The purpose is for deeper relationship with Christ, with God, with the Spirit. And as we receive the Spirit and do the work to which we are called we bear fruit. To Paul, the sacrifice was sweet in that in brought us closer to Christ and the fruit it bore was in the ways God provided and could then be boasted in to others, so that they might also come to know Christ.

Matthew 7:16-20 “You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits.”

So yes, Abba, I see this is hard. But I see the fruit for your Kingdom that comes through it.

Theological Reflection on Galatians

GALATIANS

I learned a tremendous amount from the letter to the Galatians but before I get into that, I first need to unpack two details I learned from Gorman’s Apostle of the Crucified Lord which is not necessarily made explicitly clear within the letter to Galatians itself. First, Paul would be what you might consider a “cruciform covenantal charismatic Jew,” meaning he was a Jew who believed in the crucified messiah Jesus Christ. This sacrifice, to Paul, fulfilled the old covenant (the Law) and created a new covenant in the shape of the life of Jesus and gave us each the ability to receive the Holy Spirit. Second, those Paul speaks against in Galatians are what you might call “messianic covenantal nomist Jews.”  This means that they believe Jesus was the messiah but his sacrifice was not sufficient and the gospel is supplemented by the keeping of the old covenant, so they required Gentiles to “convert.” To Paul, this is unacceptable because Christ is either all or nothing; Christ is either the son of God sacrificed as a fulfilling of the covenant and requires no supplement from us or he did not fulfill the covenant and was not the Messiah. This is why Paul finds those who want to circumcise Gentile followers of Christ so appalling.

Paul quickly jumps into a rebuke. Galatians 1:6-7, “I am amazed that you are so quickly forsaking the one who called you by [the] grace [of Christ] for a different gospel (not that there is another). But there are some who are disturbing you and wish to pervert the gospel of Christ.” He’s so upset he skips the Thanksgiving and asks how they could forsake God who had the grace to call them. He then issues a double curse on those who he believes are perverting the gospel of Christ. He follows by defending “his” gospel. Galatians 1:12-13 “For I didn’t receive it from a human being, nor was I taught it, but it came through revelation of Jesus Christ. For you heard my former way of life in Judaism, how I persecuted the Church…” and goes on to outline the extraordinary source of his gospel and authority. After securely affirming his authority, which would be difficult for any of those who oppose him to surpass in reputation, he moves on to address the actions that they are taking, which is following the old laws.

He explains that circumcision is not necessary, and even references the Council of Jerusalem. Galatians 2:3, “Moreover, not even Titus, who was with me, although he was Greek, was compelled to be circumcised.” Those of repute in Jerusalem (the disciples) approved of Paul’s gospel and added nothing to it. He furthers his case by bringing up his challenge of Cephas, or Peter, at Antioch, whom Paul opposed to his face. Galatians 2:12-14, “For, until some people came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to draw back and separated himself, because he was afraid of the circumcised. And the rest of the Jews [also] acted hypocritically along with him…But when I saw that they were not on the right road in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of all, “If you, though a Jew, are living like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like the Jews?” This is where we see the real contrast of what Paul was and what Jerusalem endorsed, and what Paul condemned in the “messianic covenantal nomists.” It appears to me that Paul uses this to show that even Peter could be confused by these “false brothers.” He then he lays forth a strong argument for faith and justification in Christ.

First, justification as translated from Greek has the same root as righteousness and is often tied to God as Judge but this was a very covenantal and relational term. It was meant for reconciliation. Second, faith is not just meant as a belief in God or trusting in God, but faithfulness to God. It is also a covenantal term that was more often related to things like loyalty, obedience, and devotion. In understanding this, I gain a much deeper understanding of what Paul teaches next. Galatians 2:15-16 “We, who are Jews by nature and not sinners from among the Gentiles, [yet] who know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, even when we have believed in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.” What Paul is saying is that Jews know the Laws, and those who believe know that they find reconciliation and justification in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ through their faithfulness. They know, having tried to keep the Law, that nobody can be justified or reconciled to God through the Law. To further clarify this point, Paul writes in Galatians 2:20-21 “I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me. I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing.”

Paul further chastises the Galatians and then asks them the probing question: from whence did you receive the Spirit? Works of the law or from faith? He even ties it back to Abraham, pointing out that Abraham’s justification and righteousness came not through the law but his faithfulness to God. Again he points to the fact that you are cursed if you cannot follow all laws, but it is told the one who lives by righteous faith will live. To refocus on the cruciform shape of Jesus’ life Paul finds central to faith, he summarizes it again in Galatians 3:13-14 “Christ ransomed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who hangs on a tree,” that the blessing of Abraham might be extended to the Gentiles through Jesus Christ, so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.”

Why the Law? As Paul wrote, the law was created for our transgressions, and we were being disciplined by a disciplinarian. With Jesus a new time has come where we are no longer under a disciplinarian but instead, all one in Christ. We had come of age. Galatians 4:3-7 “…we also, when we were not of age, were enslaved to the elemental powers of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law to ransom those under the law so that we might receive adoption. As proof that you are children, God sent the spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying out “Abba, Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.” This is all a beautiful reminder to me of the extraordinary freedom I am experiencing in my faith. Paul immediately heads back into questioning why they would abandon this for the law, to experience isolation and exclusion from God by rejecting his mercy and grace.

He uses allegory with the story of Abraham having children with a slave woman and a freewoman before launching into another reminder: Galatians 5:4-6 “You are separated from Christ, you who are trying to be justified by the law; you have fallen from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we await the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.” This is an important message for us even in the modern day.  The work you do for God doesn’t matter if you aren’t doing it for the right reason. If you are doing it out of obedience to the law, and not out of love for Christ and the law of Christ, then it is worthless to God or even worse because you’re doing it to try to earn something that cannot be earned. We must do all things out of love.

Another reminder as valuable today as it was then, Galatians 5:13-15 “For you were called for freedom, brothers. But do not use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh; rather, serve one another through love. For the whole law is fulfilled in one statement, namely, “You shall love your neighbors as yourself. But if you go on biting and devouring one another, beware that you are not consumed by one another.” Reminding me of the Thessalonian readings, it is all about understanding the context of freedom in Christ, and in loving others. The emphasis is hat not being under the Law does not mean serving the desires of your flesh but the needs of your fellow man. So as to avoid some of the confusion that might be experienced, Paul helpful lists that which should be avoided: Galatians 5:19 “immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions, occasions of envy, drinking bouts, orgies and the like.” Lastly, we are provided with clues for what is of the spirit which I like to use as a kind of checklist to make sure I’m working with the Spirit: Galatians 5:22 “…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.”

Where is holiness in my life?

While reading Practicing our Faith I could not help but reflect, as I have this entire class, on how my faith is reflected in my own life. Where is holiness in it? Is it found only in moments of prayer and attendance of church service? I believe it is something that I can personally plug into, but how often do I do so and to what extent? How often is it reflected out to others?

When I consider the rhythms of life and holiness, it is impossible not to think first of Matthew 28:19, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” but what feels like a deeply vocational call is something that can be done in the context of any career, not to the exclusion of it. It is something that we experience most often in the process of sharing life, not avoiding it.

As I think of the different stories we read about Jesus and the way he transformed people’s lives, so few of them took place within a place of worship. Most were when Jesus entered into solidarity with others through meals, at a well, in the streets, at the fishing boats, etc. Jesus was a man who again shows us that to experience relationship with God comes from spending time with God, with our community, and with serving others.