Philippians 2:5-11 Exegesis

Text: Philippians 2:5-11 (NIV)

  1. “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:” (2:5)
  2. Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;” (2:6)
  3. “rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” (2:7)
  4. “And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death even death on a cross! (2:8)
  5. “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name,” (2:9)
  6. “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,” (2:10)
  7. “and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (2:11)

Theme/Paragraph Analysis

Paul’s entire purpose within this passage is to instruct the community on cruciform love; on how to relate to one another using Christ’s life as a framework for our life so we can begin to understand what cruciform love looks like in our day to day lives.

  1. In your relationships with one another, recognize Jesus in each other and be a reflection of Christ.
  2. Jesus, being God, considering his equality to God not something to be exploited for himself.
  3. Despite his divine glory and equality, Jesus made nothing of himself by being made in human likeness to serve man.
  4. Thus being man, he lived a lifetime of humility culminating in obedience to death on the cross. (2:8)
  5. God responded to Jesus’ super abasement by raising Jesus up and giving him the highest of high places and the highest of names. (2:9)
  6. That, at his name, all of the universe would bow in adoration. (2:10)
  7. And everyone will worship Jesus Christ as Lord because of his sacrificial love, which brings glory to God, his Father. (2:11)

 

 

Historical Analysis

Although it may not be historical, in reading the New Testament it would be difficult not to see that the book of Philippians is a letter of love, thanksgiving, hope and friendship. It was written to those in Philippi which was named for Alexander the Great’s father, Philip of Macedon, when Augustus re-founded the city as a Roman colony under his own patronage in 31 B.C.[1] Because it was an emperor’s city, there was a greater emphasis on Rome adulation, local deities and the cult of the emperor. “There is no evidence of a Jewish synagogue, though there appears to have been a very small Jewish community (cf. Acts 16:13, 16).”[2] The city itself was neither large nor small but was ideally located for trade via land and sea.

“Paul’s letter confirm that he experienced suffering in Philippi (1:29-30; Thess. 2:1-2) and that women played an important role in the church (Phil. 4:2-3).”[3] Acts reports that Lydia was his first convert in Philippi and reports her baptism as well as her home serving as a house church. As for suffering, this was something the Philippians also shared with Paul because it was perceived that the gospel being shared was un-Roman and targeted Gentiles.[4] This lead to ongoing targeting of followers. “Yet the Philippian believers were both generous and joyful in their affliction (2 Cor. 8:2).”[5] Paul wrote this letter while imprisoned, which means that there is a good possibility that the Philippians were as much of an encouragement to Paul as he meant to be to them.

Some focus on the possibility that this may be a “unified” letter; that is, the combination of several letters into one. Others have explored whether the nature of the relationship between Paul and the Philippians was more friendship or perhaps patron-client. When read in its entirety though, one thing becomes clear: “For the letter to the Philippians, while perhaps occasioned by the need to give thanks for a gift, is focused much more on the need for those who are in Christ to live a cruciform life in the face of internal and external challenges to the gospel.”[6] Rooted in Christ’s story, Paul speaks from his suffering to the heart of another suffering people with great encouragement.

Verse Analysis

1. Paul starts his instruction in Philippians 2:5 (NIV) “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:”[7] Thus, in the first part of the sentence he makes it clear that the verses following this are regarding how the Philippians should relate to one another.   The second part of the sentence requires a little bit more in-depth analysis; it experiences a variety of translations in Bibles due to its own lack of clarity. “Lit., “have this attitude among you which was also in Christ Jesus,” The second en with the dative is understood as an equivalent of the simple dative (expressing possession…) But it is also possible to render the verse, “Have for one another that attitude which you also have in Christ Jesus.”[8] If it is the first interpretation, we are meant to understand that the Philippians should possess the attitude of Christ; in the second interpretation it is more of a union between Christ and the Philippians. It is less about the individual mimicking Christ and more about the transformation of the Christian community within Philippi itself.

In order to gain a little bit more perspective, we can take the broader Pauline theology into consideration by looking at II Corinthians 5:16-17 (NAB) “Consequently, from now on we regard no one according to the flesh; even if we once knew Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know him so no longer. So whoever is in Christ is a new creation; the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come.”[9] It is clear in this verse that Paul believes that whoever is in Christ is transformed; not merely imitating Christ but becoming like Jesus. “Thus we may paraphrase: Think among yourselves what you think in Christ-i.e. think of each other the way you think about Christ; regard each other from the same perspective.”[10] I am inclined to think what Paul saw as the implications of his sentence are that by being in Christ Jesus you are dying to the old ways; you would see others and treat them the way Jesus would have seen them and treated them.

2. The following verses were most likely answering a question that Paul foresaw: What does that look like? So he reminds them by using a hymn, and the first half “begins with God and descends to the low point, death. Each of its 3 active verbs focuses on a moment in the deathward movement toward obedience.”[11] Before we examine the trajectory of the first half of the verses, the really extraordinary thing we need to appreciate is specifically what Paul is saying in the first part of the sentence of Philippians 2:6 (NIV) Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;”[12] namely Christ’s pre-existence.

“Philippians 2 is the earliest passage in the Pauline literature to raise in our minds the serious questions about the pre-existence of Christ. Already Paul has made statements implying a change in status on Christ’s part, notably in 2 Cor 8:9, where Christ, who was rich, became poor for our sake-this is the language of incarnation. Now we find Christ, who was in the form of God, emptying himself taking the form of a slave, and becoming man…”[13] This is tremendously powerful. Jesus wasn’t formed first as a man with God qualities but rather was a being whose very nature is God and equal to God. This was written by a monotheistic Jew who believed Jesus Christ was the Messiah and was passionate about the Holy Spirit. In fact, the translation “…of divine status: Lit., “originally being in the form of God; having as a possession the form of God.”[14] Morphe theou, or “form of God” was, according to Fitzmyer, meant to express the external appearance of Jesus; his body. This is a radical and countercultural idea for the monotheistic Jewish people who were without a Trinitarian theology.

Understanding that Jesus resided in such a form, Paul wanted to make it clear that his divine status wasn’t something that Jesus clung to or literally, “considered it not a thing-to-be-clutched[-at].” The word harpagmos is rare…it has been understood actively as an “act of plundering” (Vg rapina)…”[15] The intention of juxtaposing this word with Jesus’ divinity is most likely because of how such authority and power would have been viewed by people, particularly in that time. Kings would set themselves apart and shore up their authority, which would be passed down often only through their own lineage. It was, indeed, something to treat as “miser’s booty” if you were of this world. But Jesus was not and Paul wants to remind us that we are, again, to recognize Jesus in one another and be a reflection of him.

3. We begin the descent with Philippians 2:7 (NIV) “rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.”[16] Jesus, having the form of God, made himself nothing. Here we have radical transformation occurring. “The heart of the matter is the change of roles from divine authority to slave status, from the highest thinkable role to the lowest known.”[17] Keck points out that this is a metaphorical divesting and not a metaphysical divestment of Jesus’ divinity; it is a status change rather than a change of essence. Fitzmyer clarifies exactly what Jesus divests himself of: “Jesus, in becoming man, divested himself of the privilege of divine glory; he did not empty himself of divinity, but of the status of glory to which he had a right…”[18] Instead of being served, as he had every right to be, Jesus chose to become a servant (or slave) to all. Furthermore, he was like all men; although he performed miracles there was nothing extraordinary about his body; he grew up like all boys, learned and acquired skills, bled and died like any other man. His external shape, as he appeared to men in the days of his flesh (Heb 5:7), was that of a man.”[19]

     4. “And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death even death on a cross! Philippians 2:8 (NIV) [20] This is the second level on the descent of Jesus. “In the self-humbling we should see the sweep of Jesus’ life as a whole, not particular incidents in it. It is not clear who is being obeyed here-the cosmic powers or God. Perhaps it is enough to say that he acted as one who was obedient rather than as one who called for obedience…”[21] The entire life of Jesus’ is one of humility. Fitzmyer proposes that it is his devotion to the Father that leads to his heroism; I propose that Jesus’ devotion and humility are born out of faithful love for a people who most often showed faithless love to him in return.

When in the Mount of Olives before his death, it says in Luke 22:42-43 (NAB) that Jesus prays, “saying ‘Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done.’ [And to strengthen him an angel from heaven appeared to him.”[22] Before this moment, Jesus laments for his people in Luke 19:41 (NAB) “As he drew near, he saw the city and wept over it,”[23] Jesus actually wept over the fate of the city of Jerusalem. These actions seem to speak of the deep and abiding love that God has for his people and the covenantal relationship maintained with us, whether he walks as a man or not. Furthermore, asking for the cup to be taken from him doesn’t mean he wishes to deny the opportunity of salvation to his people. No, Jesus’ humility is most manifested in the moment when he is obedient to actual death; allowing himself to be reaped as a sacrifice for many.

5. Having been humbled as deeply as one can go, surrendering even to death, how does the Father respond to the Son? Paul writes in Philippians 2:9 (NIV) “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name,”[24] The literal translation for what God did is actually superexalted, and according to Fitzmyer, “The hymn refers to the ascension of Christ (cf. Eph 4:10). It is “Johannine” in its immediate passage from the cross to exaltation and un-Pauline in its passing over the resurrection. The Father has exalted Christ to a status that contrasts superabundantly with his condition of abasement.”[25] Just as we saw that the hymn was all-inclusive of the humbling life of Jesus, I do not believe it skips over the resurrection as much as it assumes it is part of the trajectory from death to the highest place where Jesus is given the name above all names. It is a necessary component. Lastly, his given “…name is Kyrios, which appears at the end of the hymn; this LXX equivalent of Adonai (my Lord) was used for the ineffable tetragrammaton YHWH. It is the name that surpasses all celestial beings.”[26]

6. Paul goes on in Philippians 2:10 (NIV) to say, “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,”[27] making this an experience not just for earth but for all the universe. “…In an act of religious devotion. The hymn alludes to Is 45:23 and transfers to the new Kyrios the adoration given there to Yahweh. It is a universal and cosmic adoration paid to a sovereign.”[28] For what reason does all of creation bow to him? We read in Is 45:22-25 (NAB), “Turn to me and be safe, all you ends of the earth, for I am God; there is no other! By myself I swear, uttering my just degree and my unalterable word: To me every knee shall bend; by me every tongue shall swear, Saying, “Only in the Lord are just deeds and power. Before him in shame shall come all who vent their anger against him. In the Lord shall be the vindication and the glory of all the descendants of Israel.”[29] Thus through his statement, Paul alludes to the fact that Jesus fulfills the words spoken by God in Isaiah; words that are unalterable and true.

7. Paul finishes the sentence in Philippians 2:11 (NIV) by proclaiming: “and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,to the glory of God the Father.”[30] Where the first half emphasized Jesus’ life of humility (or downward trajectory of humiliation), the second half of the hymn was used by Paul to show the reversal of that trajectory. “God highly exalted him (NEB “raised him to the heights”) and bestowed on him the name above all names. These 2 verbs are 2 aspects of the same act. The self-humbling is answered by the exaltation by God, and the role of slave is answered by the role of master. The name is Lord (lit. “master”)… The entire cosmic power structure under whose authority Christ humbled himself now confesses he is Lord.”[31] Although it is as Keck describes, that Christ is now exalted by God and confessed as Lord, it is not a rivalry to the Father.

In fact, as it is described by Fitzmyer, “his voluntary abasement and the acknowledgement paid to him by creation in his rewarded status bring honor to the Father… This essential profession of early Christian faith in Jesus forms the climax of the hymn.”[32] The actual passion that lies within the story of Jesus’ life of humility, his sacrifice and the glory he brings to the Father when he is hyperexalted might distract from the original intention of the verses: to instruct the community on their interactions with one another. In the simplest way, Paul encourages them to be a community built on a foundation of cruciform love; in all their relationships to be so deeply rooted in Christ and have Christ so deeply rooted in them that their life reflects the life of Jesus to others. Not just in principles or teachings but in the shape of our daily life.

 

Works Cited

“Philippians 2 NIV.” Bible Reference. Bible Gateway, n.d. Retrieved August 19, 2016, from https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Philippians+2&version=NIV.

Fitzmyer, Joseph A., S.J. “The Letter to the Philippians.” The Jerome Biblical Commentary. Vol. 2. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1968. 247-53. Print.

Gorman, M. J. (2004). Apostle of the Crucified Lord: A Theological Introduction to Paul & His Letters. United States of America: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. Print.

Hooker, Morna D. “The Letter to the Philippians.” The New Interpreter’s Bible: A Commentary in Twelve Volumes. Nashville: Abingdon, 1994. 467-550. Print.

Keck, Leander E. “The Letter of Paul to the Philippians.” Ed. Charles M. Laymon. The Interpreters One-Volume Commentary on the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 1971. 845-55. Print.

St. Mary’s Press: College Study Bible (NAB). (2007). Winona, MN: Christian Brothers Publications. Wright, N. T. (1994).

 

[1] Gorman, M. J. (2004). Apostle of the Crucified Lord: A Theological Introduction to Paul & His Letters. Pg. 413

[2] Gorman, 414

[3] Gorman, 415

[4] Gorman, 417

[5] Gorman, 417

[6] Gorman, 418

[7] “Philippians 2 NIV.” n.d. Bible Reference. Bible Gateway. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Philippians+2&version=NIV.

[8] Fitzmyer, Joseph A., S.J. “The Letter to the Philippians.” The Jerome Biblical Commentary. Vol. 2. 1968. Pg. 250.

[9] St. Mary’s Press: College Study Bible (NAB). (2007). Winona, MN: Christian Brothers Publications. Pg. 1755

[10] Keck, Leander E. “The Letter of Paul to the Philippians.” The Interpreters One-Volume Commentary on the Bible. 1971. Pg. 850.

[11] Keck, 850.

[12] “Philippians 2 NIV.” n.d. Bible Reference. Bible Gateway

[13] Hooker, Morna D. “The Letter to the Philippians.” The New Interpreter’s Bible: A Commentary in Twelve Volumes. 1994. Pg. 502.

[14] Fitzmyer, 250.

[15] Fitzmyer, 250-1.

[16] “Philippians 2 NIV.” n.d. Bible Reference. Bible Gateway

[17] Keck, 850

[18] Fitzmyer, 251

[19] Fitzmyer, 251

[20] “Philippians 2 NIV.” n.d. Bible Reference. Bible Gateway

[21] Keck, 850

[22] St. Mary’s Press: College Study Bible (NAB). (2007). Pg. 1571.

[23] St. Mary’s Press: College Study Bible (NAB). (2007). Pg. 1566.

[24] “Philippians 2 NIV.” n.d. Bible Reference. Bible Gateway

[25] Fitzmyer, 251

[26] Fitzmyer, 251

[27]“Philippians 2 NIV.” n.d. Bible Reference. Bible Gateway

[28] Fitzmyer, 251

[29] St. Mary’s Press: College Study Bible (NAB). (2007). Pg. 1082-3,

[30] “Philippians 2 NIV.” n.d. Bible Reference. Bible Gateway

[31] Keck, 851

[32] Fitzmyer, 251

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Romans 8:22-30 (My Exegesis Attempt)

Text: Romans 8:22-8:30 [NIV]

  1. “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” (8:22 [NIV])
  2. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.” (8:23)
  3. “For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have?” (8:24)
  4. “But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.” (8:25)
  5. “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.” (8:26)
  6. “And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.” (8:27)
  7. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (8:28)
  8. “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.” (8:29)
  9. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” (8:30)

Theme/Paragraph Analysis

The theme of these verses is the story of God’s faithfulness and mercy to an unfaithful people and the response of patience and love from those who receive mercy from Him through their faith.

  1. All creation, with mankind, is experiencing a period of strife as we enter a new age.
  2. Although believers groan inwardly, God gave us the Spirit which represents the firstfruits of things to come.
  3. Christians are saved by faith in Jesus’ resurrection; they hope in a future promised in the Spirit’s firstfruits.
  4. We wait patiently through our suffering, trusting in God’s timing because of our hope.
  5. The Spirit helps our weakness and intercedes for us in prayer.
  6. God searches our hearts and understands the mind of the Spirit, who he sent to advocate for God’s people.
  7. Those who love God are called to the things God loves; God is good and so His work is for good.
  8. God knows His people from their creation. God planned their salvation through his Son’s relationship with them: that Jesus’ sacrifice would create a community of people who love God.
  9. The path to glorification with Christ is righteousness through the blood of Christ and repentance.

Historical Analysis

“Romans is arguably the most influential letter ever written. It is certainly the most significant letter in the history of Christianity. Romans has spawned conversions, doctrines, disputations, and even a few reformations, and it has done so quite ecumenically and with a kind of domino effect.”[1] One of the things that makes Romans so significant is that it has remained impactful throughout the centuries, from modern theologians like Karl Barth back to those such as Augustine and Martin Luther. This is in part because it addresses the struggle of faith in most seasons. “It narrates the grace of God toward sinful humanity, both Jews and Gentiles, that creates a multicultural cruciform community of obedient faith issuing in generous love and expectant hope.”[2]

Although Paul clearly knew quite a few of the Romans based on the names of those he listed, it is also clear that he is not the Church Father. This leads to substantial debate as to the purpose of Paul writing them. There is one thing of which we can be sure: all was not well in Rome. “In 49 an edict of Claudius expelled the Jews (or at least many of them) from Rome because of their fighting about one “Chrestus” -in all likelihood an allusion to intra-Jewish debate over the identity and role of the Jewish Messiah and, perhaps, whether Jesus was the expected one.”[3] In addition, Gentiles made up the majority if not the whole of the Roman Church which would likely have led to a marginalization of the Jews. Indications lead us to believe that this plus the differences in their practices led to issues of judgment over practices.[4] These historical tensions elicited the powerful response we see from Paul: “…the theme of Romans is God’s grace – God’s impartial faithfulness and mercy – for Jews and Gentiles that creates the eschatological, or new covenant, community through the “obedience of faith” (1:5;16:26).”[5]

 

Verse Analysis

1. Romans 8:22 [NIV] tells us “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.”[6] We see evidence of this in frontiers possibly never even considered by Paul: deforestation, global warming, factory farming, unethical global supply chains that destroy developing regions, trafficking of over 20 million persons[7] etc. Fitzmyer writes that this comparison of struggle to childbirth was very common in Paul’s time for Greek philosophers. “Paul adopts this image to express the tortuous convulsions of frustrated material creation, as he sees it. It groans in hope and expectation, but also in pain. The compound verb (synodinei) expresses the concerted agony of the universe in all its parts.”[8]

One matter debated is whether mankind is included in the “whole creation.” Whereas Fitzmyer sees it unlikely because mankind is not brought up until the next verse, I believe it more likely that Paul meant to include us with the rest of creation; it further humbles us and reminds us that God is the Creator and we are the created. We groan in the pains with the rest of creation and are not set apart in this way; we on our own cannot distinguish ourselves from the rest of creation; only the grace of God can do that. For this reason, I prefer the perspective offered through the Hebrew Bible lens: “Although confident that God will be victorious, believers live in the present age, which is characterized by suffering and decay… Paul draws on a convention of the Hebrew Bible in which birth pains serve as a metaphor for the period of strife and travail that ushers in a new age…”[9]

2. Paul goes on to clarify that although we groan inwardly, we are in possession of the firstfruits. To make such a statement was no small gesture, as seen in Leviticus 23:14 (NAB) “Until this day, when you bring your God this offering, you shall not eat any bread or roasted grain or fresh kernels. This shall be a perpetual statute for you and your descendants wherever you dwell.”[10] In remembrance of their time in Egypt, the Jewish people would offer their firstfruits to God before preparing or eating any of their crop. The firstfruit was set aside for God. Yet now there is a reversal and God’s people are receiving God’s firstfruit in them. Paul writes, “Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.” Romans 8:23 [NIV][11] So although we groan with the rest of creation, we have also received a great gift from God.

The resurrection being such an important part of Paul’s theology, it is to be expected that he would mention not only sonship but redemption of our bodies, alluding to the resurrection of Christ and the belief that the same experience was in store for his followers in the future. Paul’s striving for love in the shape of a cross is not intellectual; it is literal. We have been saved but we are not yet remade in the image of Jesus. “Summing up the whole train of thought, Paul can declare, here and in vv. 26-27, that the present “groaning,” though at one level a sign of the present not fully redeemed state, is at the same time a sign of the Christian’s sure and certain hope… The body is intended to be a glorious, splendid, fashioned after the model of Jesus’ own resurrection body, no longer subject to weakness, humiliation, sickness, sin, and death (cf. 1 Cor 15:54; 2 Cor 5:1-5; Phil 3:21). The Christian in the present time is but a pale shadow of his or her future self.”[12]

3. Romans 8:24 [NIV] translates as “For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have?”[13] There are some issues with this translation, primarily with the writing of the last verse which makes it sound as if Christians may be putting their hope in something other than the resurrection of Jesus Christ, on which salvation hinges. It may be better translated as, “’For we were saved in hope.’ …Paul’s concern is to stress that, while salvation is already a reality for the Christian (“we were saved”: the tense is aorist, denoting a one-off event), it carries an inevitable future component.”[14] Remember, Paul first has emphasized our need to be humble through our equal struggle with the rest of creation, then reminded us of the undeserved grace God shows in offering salvation through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This question of hope focuses the Romans on the hope offered in the generous gift of the Spirit given by God.

“Hope is built in to Christian experience from the start, and remains one of its central characteristics (see 5:2-5; 15:13).  But if this is so, Paul is stressing, one cannot expect present Christian living to be anything other than a matter of straining forward for what is yet to come, for what is yet unseen… One does not anxiously scan the horizon for a boat already in port.”[15] It is a state of being for the Christian rather than a means to an end. Hope is not our means of justification. “Justified through faith, man still looks to the future eschatological term of salvation and this is the sphere of hope.”[16] It is clear within the context of these verses why it is so important to differentiate between faith and hope so Christian’s build upon the proper foundation. “The replacement of faith by hope is understandable in this context, but they are not synonymous. In view of Paul’s understanding of faith, we cannot translate, “saved by hope” (KJV and even Luther). The full meaning is that we were saved-i.e. by Christ’s achievement, regard as complete, hence the past tense-so as to live now in…hope.”[17]

4. After clarifying we exist in a state where our spirit has been saved but our body not redeemed and that redemption is what we hope for but what remains unseen, Paul addresses how that hope should manifest itself within the community: “But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.” (Romans 8:25 [NIV])[18] This is not hoping with anxious anticipation, like a child waiting eagerly for the moment they get to open their presents, it is trusting in the timing of God. Never, in the case of Paul, does this mean inaction. “It is hope that enables the Christian to bear with “the sufferings of the present,” (8:18) but that also makes him a witness to the world of a lively faith in the resurrection (cf. I Cor 2:9; 2 Cor 5:7; Heb 11:1).”[19] In summary, Paul is saying that the Christ follower who has hope is patient and obedient in this life because the Spirit helps us to trust in the promise of the future, having received the firstfruits (the Spirit itself).

5. “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.” (Romans 8:26 [NIV])[20] “The Spirit, he says, helps us in our weakness-or literally, “The Spirit helps our weakness.”[21] While Wright interprets that to mean the state prior to “full redemption,” I would rather take into consideration Paul’s first several lines referencing all of creation groaning in pain, and our groaning with it. While this is technically the state prior to redemption, Paul appears to be addressing issues of daily life with this verse. Mankind, by his very nature selfish, weak and prone to turn away from God now has within him an intercessor by means of the Spirit who speaks for us in our prayers when we have no words. “…the Spirit adds to them his intercession that transcends that weakness (hyperentygchanei,” intercedes over and above”) the result is that the Christian utters what would otherwise be ineffable. Even to pray “Abba, Father,” the Spirit must dynamically assist the Christian (8:15, Gal 4:6). But the Christian who so prays is aware that the Spirit is manifesting his presence to him.”[22]

When thinking of times of great struggle, turmoil or mourning there is often great comfort and relationship that can be found when we weep, cry and call out the name of our God and beg for His presence. Paul’s familiarity with this experience becomes clear to us through these last couple verses. “Rather, he is speaking of an agonizing in prayer, a mixture of lament and longing in which, like a great swell of tide at sea, “too full for sound or foam,” the weight of what is taking place has nothing to do with the waves and ripples on the surface…”[23] To be told that God in the form of the Spirit laments with us as we lament, mourns with us as we mourn, and gives voice to our prayers when we have no words provides great comfort to those who might feel like their experience is isolating, unbearable or unknowable.

6. Furthermore, whatever the Spirit gives voice to the Father comprehends. While Paul was certainly a monotheist, this is where we see some of the Trinitarian beliefs manifested. “That the Spirit intercedes for us distinguishes the Spirit from God. In vs. 34 intercession is the work of Christ…”[24] but when Christ leaves he said that he would send another for us, an “advocate” in some translations, and this is what we see now in Paul’s writing: “And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.” (Romans 8:27 [NIV])[25] It is this distinction between that of the Spirit who inhabits us and that of the Father who can search our heart but also knows the mind of the Spirit. We see this distinction because we know that the phrase, “he who searches the hearts,” originates within the Old Testament. Examples include Proverbs 20:27 which the World English Bible translates as “The spirit of man is Yahweh’s lamp, searching all his innermost parts.”[26] Or the CEV version of Psalm 139:1 that says, “You have looked deep into my heart, Lord, and you know all about me.”[27] A searcher of hearts and man’s innermost parts is a clear part of God’s ongoing relationship with mankind. Additionally, “It was part of God’s loving plan of salvation that the Spirit should play such a dynamic role in the aspirations and prayers of Christians.”[28]

7. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28 [NIV])[29] The use (or lack) of ho theos (God) in relationship to the verb synergei and the emphasis it puts on panta has ended up with three different ways of understanding this verse. First, if ho theos is included and synergei, “…is understood intransitively with an indirect object (“works together with”) …It stresses God’s co-operation “in all things” (panta, adv. Acc.) with those who love, and this is seen as the realization of his living plan of salvation…”[30] The second interpretation still includes ho theos but makes synergei transitive, making the subject panta so that the phrasing becomes, “all things work together for good for those who love God.”[31] While this might seem to fundamentally say the same thing as the third interpretation, taken in isolation, this translation or the first (similar to the NIV used) could be misinterpreted in isolation to say that God does good for those who love Him, not what is made more clear in the third and my preferred translation: “If ho theos is omitted…and panta is taken as the subject of the verb, then “all things work together for good for those who love God.”[32] Likewise, we see similar thinking echoed earlier in the Aramaic in Plain English translation of Romans 2:7 “To those who in the patience of good works are seeking glory, honor and indestructibility, he gives eternal life.”[33]

Thus, in understanding the intention to be that uses all things for good in the lives of those who love him, we can now rightly examine the second part of Paul’s sentence, “who have been called according to his purpose.” Another variation of this which we find in translations like the NAB is “who are called according to his purpose.”[34] Some interpretations draw on this to mean predestination but others believe it is a compliment. As we consider Paul’s overall theology, I believe the intention was more to accent the response God elicits in those who love Him; in other words, when one deeply loves God, you cannot help but feel called towards those things that God pursues. It is a natural response of love to support the ones you love in their purpose. Since it is a foundational belief that God is good, it would only make sense that those who love God would work towards good through all things in their life.

8. Paul goes on to clarify this path of the Christ follower even further: “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.” (Romans 8:28 [NIV])[35] I believe that Paul is speaking in a very general sense here, about an entire people and not an implication that God has sorted all people before the beginning of time. Paul tells the story of God and man in one broad stroke. We start with the phrase “God foreknew” which draws us back to the imagery of the Old Testament in Psalm 139:1-13 (NAB), “Lord, you have probed me, you know me: you know when I sit and stand; you understand my thoughts from afar… You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb.”[36] Then we move into the phrase “predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.” To be reminded that it was God’s plan to provide for us a Savior that looked exactly like Jesus Christ all along, back from Isaiah:1-12 (NAB), “…To whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? …There was in him no stately bearing to make us look at him, no appearance that would attract us to him… He was spurned and avoided by men, a man of suffering… But he was pierced for our offenses; crushed for our sins; upon him was the chastisement that makes us whole, and by his stripes we are healed… But the Lord laid upon him the guilt of us all…Though he had done no wrong nor spoken any falsehood…Through his suffering, my servant shall justify many, and their guilt he shall bear…Because he surrendered himself to death and was counted among the wicked; and he shall take away the sins of many, and win pardon for their offenses.”[37] And it wasn’t only that God planned to send us his Son to us but that those who are God’s people would conform to the image of his Son.  As it is written in 1 John 2:5-6 (NAB), “But whoever keeps his word, the love of God is truly perfected in him. This is the way that we may know that we are in union with him; whoever claims to abide in him ought to live [just] as he lived.”[38] In other words, those who love God as mentioned in Romans 8:28 should be conformed to the image of his Son, and by doing so a growing community, or brothers and sisters, who love God and have Jesus Christ as their Savior are created.

9. Paul carries on the line of reasoning by explaining: And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” (Romans 8:30 [NIV])[39] This articulates the fact that if you have received Jesus as your Savior, you are in fact predestined by God to be in relationship with Jesus and the community of followers. It follows that anyone who is saved is also called; God isn’t passive and neither are followers, according to Paul. If you are called, you will also be justified, which is another term for being made righteous (again, although this is not named explicitly as an action, it would likely involve repentance from old ways and turning towards God), and lastly glorified. “All God’s plan (involving call, election, predestination, justification) is aimed only at the final destiny of glory for all men who will put faith in Christ. It is important to realize that in this passage Paul is not speaking of the predestination of individuals; he is describing God’s design apropos of Christians as a group.”[40]

In summary, although we struggle with the rest of creation God, because of His faithfulness and mercy, provides for us the firstfruits in the form of the Spirit. Only because of God’s grace are saved by faith, and it is tin that which we find hope and patience through the Spirit, who gives sound to our wordless cries. An intercessor that God has placed within us, God can understand our hearts and the mind of the Spirit who helps our weakness and intercedes in prayer. This relationship and the love of God calls followers to the things God loves; the result of this is that all things are directed for the goodness of God for those whose hearts are like God’s. God has known his people from the start and planned their salvation through the relationship with his Son; the Son’s sacrifice and example create a community who love God and put them on a path to glory with Christ through His blood, repentance and relationship.

 

 

 

Works Cited

 

Blackman, Edwin C. “The Letter of Paul to the Romans.” Ed. Charles M. Laymon. The Interpreters One-Volume Commentary on the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 1971. 768-94. Print.

 

Fitzmyer, Joseph A., S.J. “The Letter to the Romans.” The Jerome Biblical Commentary. Vol. 2. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1968. 291-331. Print.

 

Gaventa, Beverly R. The Women’s Bible Commentary. Ed. Carol A. Newsom and Sharon H. Ringe. London: SPCK, 1992. 313-20. Print.

 

Gorman, M. J. (2004). Apostle of the Crucified Lord: A Theological Introduction to Paul & His Letters. United States of America: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. Print.

 

ILO. New ILO Global Estimate of Forced Labour: 20.9 million victims. (2012, June 1). Retrieved August 19, 2016, from http://www.ilo.org/global/about-the-ilo/newsroom/news/WCMS_182109/lang–en/index.htm

 

Isaiah 53:1-12 Who has believed what he has heard from us? (n.d.). Retrieved August 22, 2016, from https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Isaiah+53%3A1-12&version=ESV

 

Proverbs 20:27 World English Translation. (n.d.). [Reference] Retrieved August 22, 2016, from http://biblehub.com/proverbs/20-27.htm

 

Psalm 139:13 CEV (n.d.). [Reference] Retrieved August 22, 2016, from http://biblehub.com/psalms/139-13.htm

 

Romans 2:7 Aramaic in Plain English (n.d.) [Reference]. Retrieved from http://biblehub.com/romans/2-7.htm

 

Romans 8 (NIV) (n.d.). [Reference] Retrieved August 19, 2016, from https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans 8&version=NIV

 

St. Mary’s Press: College Study Bible (NAB). (2007). Winona, MN: Christian Brothers Publications. Wright, N. T. (1994).

 

Wright, N. T. “The Letter to Romans.” The New Interpreter’s Bible: A Commentary in Twelve Volumes. Nashville: Abingdon, 1994. 395-770. Print.

[1] Gorman, M. J. (2004). Apostle of the Crucified Lord: A Theological Introduction to Paul & His Letters. Pg. 338

[2] Gorman, 339

[3] Gorman, 340

[4] Gorman, 342

[5] Gorman, 343

[6] Romans NIV Bible Gateway. [Reference]. Retrieved from https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans 8&version=NIV.

[7] ILO. (2012, June 1). Retrieved from http://www.ilo.org/global/about-the-ilo/newsroom/news/WCMS_182109/lang–en/index.htm.

[8] Fitzmyer, J. A. S. J. (1968). The Jerome Biblical Commentary (Vol. 2). Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall. Pg. 317

[9] Gaventa, B. R. (1992). The Women’s Bible Commentary. London: SPCK. Pg. 318

[10] St. Mary’s Press: College Study Bible (NAB). (2007). Winona, MN: Christian Brothers Publications. Pg. 163

[11] Romans NIV Bible Gateway. [Reference]. Retrieved from https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans 8&version=NIV.

[12] Wright, N. T. (1994). The New Interpreter’s Bible: A Commentary in Twelve Volumes (Vols. X). Nashville: Abingdon. Pg. 597

[13] Romans NIV Bible Gateway. [Reference]. Retrieved from https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans 8&version=NIV.

[14] Wright, 597.

[15] Wright, 597.

[16] Fitzmyer, 317.

[17] Blackman, E. C. (1971). The Interpreters One-Volume Commentary on the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon. Pg. 784

[18] Romans NIV Bible Gateway. [Reference]. Retrieved from https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans 8&version=NIV.

[19] Fitzmyer, 317

[20] Romans NIV Bible Gateway. [Reference]. Retrieved from https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans 8&version=NIV.

[21] Wright, 598

[22] Fitzmyer, 317

[23] Wright, 599

[24] Blackman, 784

[25] Romans NIV Bible Gateway. [Reference]. Retrieved from https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans 8&version=NIV.

[26] Proverbs 20:27 World English Translation. (n.d.). Bible Hub [Reference]. Retrieved from http://biblehub.com/proverbs/20-27.htm

[27] Psalm 139:13 CEV. (n.d.). [Reference]. Retrieved from http://biblehub.com/psalms/139-13.htm

[28] Fitzmyer, 317

[29] Romans NIV Bible Gateway. [Reference]. Retrieved from https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans 8&version=NIV.

[30] Fitzmyer, 317

[31] Fitzmyer, 317

[32] Fitzmyer, 317

[33] Romans 2:7 Aramaic in Plain English. (n.d.). [Reference]. Retrieved from http://biblehub.com/romans/2-7.htm

[34] St. Mary’s Press: College Study Bible (NAB), 1700

[35] Romans NIV Bible Gateway. [Reference]. Retrieved from https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans 8&version=NIV

[36] St. Mary’s Press: College Study Bible (NAB), 356-7

[37] St. Mary’s Press: College Study Bible (NAB), 1090-1

[38] St. Mary’s Press: College Study Bible (NAB), 1923

[39] Romans NIV Bible Gateway. [Reference]. Retrieved from https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans 8&version=NIV

[40] Fitzmyer, 317

Reflections on Romans

ROMANS

 

Some say Romans is the most influential letter every written. When in Christian circles, I often feel like it is certainly the most quoted. Some of the names which Gorman mentions as being inspired by it include Martin Luther, Augustine and John Wesley (founder of Methodism). “It narrates the grace of God toward sinful humanity, both Jews and Gentiles, that creates a multicultural cruciform community of obedient faith issuing in generous love and expectant hope.” (Gorman, pg. 339) It is easy when people begin to look at Jews and Gentiles to become divided, to see the separateness and differentness as one being superior but it is important to remember that Paul’s ministry was pastoral and particularly in Romans, the goal was to emphasize God’s grace. Romans 1:11-12 “For I long to see you, that I may share with you some spiritual gift so that you may be strengthened, that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by one another’s faith, yours and mine.” I particularly enjoy this verse, even though Gorman doesn’t focus much on it, because it emphasizes the community aspect of Christianity and the encouragement that can be found within that community and with God.

 

Paul, a self-identified Jew, identifies himself as a doulos, a slave of Christ whom God graced with the call to be an apostle. While this call to apostleship sets him apart, identifying himself as a slave to Christ quickly brings a posture of humility to someone who could easily be prideful either in their heritage or their calling. “Paul clearly views God’s gospel and salvation as oriented to all, ‘to the Jew first and also to the Greek’ (1:16).” (Gorman, pg. 349) There is an emphasis that this is for everyone and therefore there is no place for pride. Paul reminds people to be humble yet again in another passage, warning people to beware of pride and hypocrisy and that the law cannot be the means of justification. Romans 3:19-20 tells us, “Now we know that what the law says is addressed to those under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world stand accountable to God, since no human being will be justified in his sight by observing the law; for through the law comes consciousness of sin.” Although there is not justification found through the law, there is awareness of sin, which is discovered through the law but not created by it. A great amount of Romans is spent on sin and freedom from the law, but then we shift to our adoption and receipt of glory. The undeniable love of God witnessed through Christ Jesus.

 

Another verse that particularly pulls my attention is Romans 1:20 “Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made.” This is part of the argument that those who do not acknowledge God are without excuse because they witnessed God in creation and didn’t honor or thank him. This does not, however, negate the necessity of God and Christ, as we see later in Romans 8:35-39 “What will separate us from the love of Christ? What anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? …No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus or Lord.” So when we ask ourselves what God has done for us in order to maintain relationship with us, in order to save us, in order to keep promises with a people who break their promises… when we reflect on that, our only response if we agree with Paul is to respond in kind; to let nothing separate God’s love from us.

 

The final Romans verse I wanted to reflect on was Romans 14:1-3 “Welcome anyone who is weak in faith, but not for disputes over opinions. One person believes that one may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. The one who eats must not despise the one who abstains, and the one who abstains must not pass judgment on the one who eats; for God has welcomed him.” Although he touches on a lot of amazing things before this and after this, this echoes on what I wrote earlier from Corinthians and I speaks to something that I resonates with our society even today. While, as Gorman said, Paul wrote this about judgmentalism and accountability, today we see it modeled within the Church as those who are look or act “more” Christian than others. This could look like a lot of different things. For some, it may mean that there’s no drinking or dancing, others it means that your always in church on Wednesdays for the extra Spirit-filling, or that you are going door to door spreading the Word. Perhaps it means that your clothing, hair and makeup meets certain expectations. Anyone doing these things in the community could arguably be considered those who eat only vegetables. Ones within their community who do not conform to these standards but have relationship with the triune and believe in a Christ who fulfilled the Law would be the person who believes they may eat anything. You can see the risk involved here, where pride and judgement could easily creep into the hearts of either. As Paul goes on to point out, he would abstain from meat if it would avoid putting a weak person’s relationship with God at risk. This is because it models Christ’s servant attitude towards others. We must know when truth is needed and when it is best not to quibble over opinions that do not risk a persons faith.

Reflections on 2 Corinthians

2 CORINTHIANS
While it is debated whether 2 Corinthians is a single letter or a collection of letters, one thing we can know for sure is that it is a treasure trove of spiritual wealth and knowledge; in it Paul provides a defense of cruciform ministry and instruction on the lifestyle of the apostle. “…he argues – sometimes gently and politely, sometimes aggressively and acerbically, but always compellingly – that cruciformity is the mark of apostleship, grace and the Spirit.” (Gorman, pg. 291)

 

We learn through Gorman that Paul starts not with his usual Thanksgiving but with a Jewish blessing that then begins to set the stage for the rest of the letter “…life in Christ is about suffering and endurance, affliction and comfort, partnership and mutual care. It is about an ‘abundant life’: experiencing the abundant presence of God in the midst of abundant tribulation.” (Gorman, pg. 294) I love the words that Paul leads with in 2 Cor 1:3-4: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and God of all encouragement, who encourages us in our every affliction…” because it reminds us that it is not God who afflicts us but who is compassionate towards us, who suffers affliction and encourages us when we persevere in our afflictions. This is why we can only agree with Paul when he states in 2 Cor 1:7 “Our hope for you is firm, for we know that as you share in the sufferings, you also share in the encouragement.” For our God is with us in everything.

 

We are reminded in 2 Cor 1:10 “He rescued us from such great danger of death, and he will continue to rescue us; in him we have put our hope [that] he will also rescue us again…” This must inspire us. When we examine this perspective, how can we not hope, for why would God go to such lengths to rescue us if he did not intend to save us? He is surely faithful to us. We are reminded again, in 2 Cor 1:20 “For however many are the promises of God, their Yes in in him, therefore, the Amen from us also goes through him to God for glory.” As Gorman explains, each of God’s promises is always a yes, although the timing of this promise is not assured.

 

The next part that really stuck out to me was what Paul wrote about the offender who had been punished by the community, the one who had hurt Paul and the church. By extending charisasthai kai parakalesai, or grace and comfort, they are showing love not just for the individual but for the community as well. “Therefore, I urge you to reaffirm your love for him.” (2 Cor 2:8) The community with which we share our suffering as Paul alluded to earlier in the letter offered both punishment and forgiveness, sharing the burden of suffering.

 

I also appreciate the contrast with which Paul compares the apostolic life to the life of the Romans, using the metaphors to frame up the cruciform lifestyle. “Paul claims that his life and message impact both those being saved and those perishing, functioning as confirmation of their life or their death, respectively (2:15-16; cf. 1 Cor. 1:18; Phil. 1:28). This, Paul realizes, is an awesome responsibility, such that ‘Who is sufficient?’ (NRSV) or ‘Who is qualified’ (NAB) is certainly an appropriate question (2:16).” (Gorman, pg. 298) What Paul helps us to see through his metaphors and questions is that we do not qualify ourselves but are divinely commissioned, and are held accountable to that commission.

 

This should lead us not to pride but humility in ourselves and confidence in Christ. As we often see with Paul, he pulls the old testament and new together in 2 Cor 3:3-5 “…shown to be a letter of Christ administered by us, written not in ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets that are hearts of flesh. Such confidence we have through Christ toward God. Not that of ourselves we are qualified to take credit for anything as coming from us; rather, our qualification comes from God…” What I really appreciate is that Paul doesn’t devalue the old covenant; he gives thanks for the fulfillment of the temporary covenant and the deliverance of the new more grace-filled covenant that brought God’s Spirit with it. He goes on to contrast the two covenants, examining the suffering of death and the experience of glory as well as the veil over people who cannot see. This all points to the triune or trinity. “Ironically, Paul’s point is almost certainly that the Spirit is the Spirit of both YHWH and Jesus. The glory of Israel’s God is perceived only by seeing the glory of his “image,” the (crucified) Lord Jesus (4:4), like an image reflected in a mirror. In line with much ancient thought about God, Paul believes those who ‘gaze upon’ the image and glory of God are transformed into the divine image…” (Gorman, pg. 300) This translates life and freedom IN Christ THROUGH the Spirit by a God of Israel fully revealed.

 

While we understand this life and freedom promised, we look back at the original topic of affliction. “Paul senses the tension between a gospel of glory and a life of slavery and affliction. He resolves it by finding in the pattern of Jesus’ death and resurrection the pattern of his own life.” (Gorman, pg. 302) The metaphor that Paul uses this is beautifully described and is a salve to the soul in times of great affliction. 2 Cor 4:7-10 “But we hold this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body.” It is to tie our suffering to the suffering of Christ and our life to the life of Christ and, as Gorman described, be transformed into the divine image. This leads us to cruciform ministry, a life that makes the life of Jesus visible to others through ourselves; but not by our words alone. Cruciform love isn’t suffering AND love, it’s suffering IN love. The same is true for cruciform ministry, and it’s all in Christ, a reflection of Christ and the hope offered in the resurrection.

 

It is a fundamental thing to note that it is Christ’s love, not the love of Christ, which compels them. 2 Cor 5:14 “For the love of Christ impels us, once we have come to the conviction that one died for all; therefore, all have died.” This means that Christ died as an act of love for all, so that they would all die to themselves and live for God. This was an orienting act of Christ, but there is still an action to be taken, a response to be made on the part of the people: to choose God.

 

Paul writes of his experience in the ministry, establishing his integrity but also providing a framework for those to come for both what to expect and what to strive for. Additionally, it provides us context to understand the tremendous amount of endurance that Paul and his companions demonstrated during their ministry. 2 Cor 6:3-8 “We cause no one to stumble in anything, in order that no fault may be found within our ministry; on the contrary, in everything we commend ourselves as ministers of God, through much endurance, in afflictions, hardships constraints, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, vigils, fasts, by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, in a holy spirit, in unfeigned love, in truthful speech, in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness at the at the right and at the left; through glory and dishonor, insult and praise.”

 

Paul goes on to address many of the problems being faced, including those known as the “super apostles” who were anything but super. Although there is much to be said about these super apostles and so much more within 2 Corinthians, the final verse I’ll examine comes after Paul emphasizes what he ultimately seeks from them: obedience to Christ. Paul understood all the things the Corinthians were up against and warned them strongly in 2 Cor 10:3-6 “For, although we are in the flesh we do not battle according to the flesh, for the weapons of our battle are not of flesh but are enormously powerful, capable of destroying fortresses. We destroy arguments and every pretension raising itself against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive in obedience to Christ.” This is not a war of violence against the body but a call to repentance, peace and forgiveness. It is so easy to blame the flesh, the person, and to make their sin their identity but that is not who we are at war with; that is not who our enemy is. The enemy is sin, the enemy is whatever drives us further from relationship with God instead of bringing us closer and by recognizing that the enemy is sin and not the person we can bring freedom and the Kingdom to people who would otherwise believe there is no hope.

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.

Reflections on I Corinthians

I CORINTHIANS

As we begin I Corinthians, we begin to see a pattern with Paul’s writing in that he foreshadows much of his letter within his greeting. In this instance, he reminds the Corinthians both of his apostleship and of their call in I Corinthians 1:1-2 “Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God…to you who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be holy…” Gorman’s emphasis on the Corinthian’s failure to love and Paul’s repeated emphasis of the holiness of humility and love in the Story of Christ becomes readily apparent as we work our way through this letter. The countercultural nature of the letter is clear; Paul is serious and moves quickly into addressing some of the major issues.

“I urge you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree in what you say, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and in the same purpose.” (I Cor 1:10) Paul is focused on unity here; division is a massive problem and Paul is deeply concerned. He spends a long time addressing it, first through relating how he heard of it then tying it back to Christ and his own story. He tries through various means to communicate to them that the paradigm they are used to has shifted. “Rather, God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are already something, so that no human being might boast before God.” (I Cor 1:27-29)

As Gorman calls out, wisdom and power might have been elements that Corinthians were well familiar with, and shifting their understanding that what it meant in God’s Kingdom proved to be a challenge. Paul tried to demonstrate God’s preference for the other through his own story in I Corinthians 2:2-5, “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear and much trembling, and my message and my proclamation were not with persuasive [words of] wisdom, but with a demonstration of spirit and power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.” Then Paul tells them that he couldn’t talk to them as spiritual people but as people of the flesh. Gorman points to the fact that Paul reforms their view of ministers, apostle’s and the Church at this point, and points not to man but to God for boasting. Corinthians 3:9 “For we are God’s co-workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.” Furthermore, he reminds them of their own holiness in their relationship with God: “Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for the temple of God, which you are, is holy.” (I Cor 4:16-17)

Paul goes on to address things like factionalism and incest and, as Gorman puts it, “Paul hopes that removing this man from the sphere of the Lord Jesus and remitting him to the sphere of Satan will eventually terminate his behavior so that he will finally be saved.” (Gorman, pg. 247) Paul challenges the Corinthians spirit of “toleration,” recognizing it instead as a spirit of pride in extreme libertinism. Believing they could do what they wanted sexually with their bodies, Paul quickly moves to address this and all misunderstandings of what freedom meant in I Corinthians 6:12, “’Everything is lawful for me,’ but not everything is beneficial. ‘Everything is lawful for me,’ but I will not let myself be dominated by anything.’” He goes on to say that the body is not for immorality but for God; remembering earlier that the Spirit is now in us. He reminds them that their bodies are members of Christ and questions how they would treat members of Christ’s body. “For you have been purchased at a price. Therefore glorify God in your body.” (I Cor 6:20) He goes on to explain that if you are married, sex within marriage is perfectly acceptable and expected so as not to be tempted to do anything sinful.

I Corinthians 8 really comes down to, as we said in the beginning, what Gorman points out as the Corinthians unlovingness towards one another. Paul would not need to address either insufficient knowledge or practical rules if the Corinthians were able to love each other more than they loved themselves. I Corinthians 8:1 “Now in regard to meat sacrificed to idols: we realize that ‘all of us have knowledge’: knowledge inflates with pride, but love builds up.” So he goes on to say that yes, while you can eat meat sacrificed to other gods because there are, in fact, no other gods, if doing so puts those who are weak in faith at risk, then a loving response is to not eat that meat in that circumstance. “But make sure that this liberty of yours in no way becomes a stumbling block to the weak… Thus through your knowledge, the weak person is brought to destruction, the brother for whom Christ died.” (I Corinthians 8:8-11) Paul goes so far as to say “Therefore, if food causes my brother to sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I may not cause my brother to sin.” (I Cor 8:13) In other words, I would rather practice cruciform love for my brother by not eating meat than risk a brothers salvation through my meat eating.

Paul proceeds with was foreshadowed in the Greeting, to establish his Apostleship, and why he refrains from the rights he has as an Apostle for which some criticize him (he refrains for the good of the Gospel and sees the financial sacrifice as a reflection of Christ’s cruciform love). “I have become all things to all, to save at least some. All this I do for the sake of the gospel, so that I too may have a share in it.” (I Cor 9:23) He warns them against being overconfident; that past Israelites had relationship and no faith because of the traps of idolatry and God was displeased and so they should always be cautious. In Corinthians 10:12-13 “Therefore, whoever thinks he is standing secure should take care not to fall. No trial has come to you but what is human. God is faithful and will not let you be tried beyond your strength; but with the trial he will also provide a way out, so that you may be able to bear it.” He continues to warn against idolatry and encourage fellowship through things like the Lord’s Supper.

Paul returns again to, as Gorman points out, the Corinth slogan of “Everything is lawful.” Here he reminds them that it might be lawful but it doesn’t necessarily build up. Again, cruciform love is held up as the standard for a response to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God. Avoid giving offense, whether to Jews or Greeks or the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in every way, not seeking my own benefit but that of the many, that they may be saved.” (I Cor 10:31-33) He ends it to imitate him as he imitates Christ.

Then Paul talks about liturgical assemblies, and the abuse of the Lord’s Supper which really just traces back to the Corinthian’s inability to love one another with compassion or cruciform love. As Gorman wrote, Paul saw it as an event of solidarity with no division or neglect and yet it had become a time of division and exclusion. Paul issues a high challenge to the Corinthians within this section, saying in I Corinthians 11:27-29, “Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. A person should examine himself…For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself.” Then he instructs them on how to properly care for one another during the Lord’s Supper.

Next Paul writes about spiritual gifts, because everyone was thinking that certain gifts were better than others. Paul emphasizes that, “As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also is Christ.” (I Cor 12:12) Additionally, everyone is where they are supposed to be with the gifts that are meant to have. “But as it is, God placed the parts, each one of them, in the body as he intended. If they were all one part, where would the body be? But as it is, there are many parts, yet one body… Indeed, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are all the more necessary.” (I Cor 12:18-22) Every gift is necessary and those that seem weakest are the most necessary to the body. Love, above all things, is most important, and all gifts must be practiced with love. Since it seems to be the greatest challenge for the Corinthians, Paul describes love in detail and then names some of the gifts and how worthless they are if they are done without love. After clearly emphasizing the importance of these things, he says, “Pursue love, but strive eagerly for the spiritual gifts, above all that you may prophesy…for their building up, encouragement and solace. Whoever speaks in a tongue builds himself up, but whoever prophesies builds up the church.” (I Cor 13:1-4)

Later he says “Thus, tongues are a sign not for those who believe but for unbelievers, whereas prophecy is not for unbelievers but for those who believe.” (I Cor 14:22) I find this really interesting because I can see where this is actually true; where tongues might have been something that would have pulled in someone who was a skeptic but for a believer, prophetic words then and now would have great value to their life. A non-believer on the other hand would have no use for prophecy, because there wouldn’t be any faith or action behind it.

Lastly, if we look at the resurrection, Paul was unsure if the Corinthians really believed in the resurrection. This is understandable; for Paul it was the crux of his faith in Christ and in fact when we look at the disciples, it was the changing point for all their behavior. But Paul sees the Corinthians still behaving as pagans. We’re really getting to the point of Paul’s entire letter. If they truly did believe, they would be living as if they believed. This is why Paul warns them in I Corinthians 15:2 “Through it you were also being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.” He explains the ins and out of bodily resurrection and why it is important (namely, there is no reason for faith or hope or love without it) and that because of it we are called to those things and to live a life like Christ. He wraps up the resurrection section by stating in I Corinthians 15:56-58 “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be firm, steadfast, always fully devoted to the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” Then he wraps up with some final exhortations and greetings. When Paul writes, “Be on your guard, stand firm in the faith, be courageous, be strong. Your every act should be love.” (I Cor 16:13-14) it can feel like a call to action! Gorman writes that Paul ends with a common early Christian prayer for the Parousia which I also think is beautiful, “Our Lord, come” or Maranatha in Aramaic (pg. 283)

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.”