Vulnerability gone crazy

Guess what? Gayle said in a certain situation today that we were both involved in that my vulnerability came through. I was left asking – is she so unobservant on every other occasion. Then came through a link to a blog. This (professional) person had been reading a book by Viktor Frankl and for each Enneagram number she put out a quote for each one.

I will put two of them up here. One was for Gayle and one for me. When I read mine I simply laughed, loved the quote and then thought – and still do think – and why on earth would one want to do that? Of course the whole direction the quote is pushing in is (and even I admit that) correct. But why do it that way? Hey I am but 67 years of age, how could anyone that young ever take time to slow down and reflect – I thought that was something one might begin to attempt in the second half of life. Gayle, meanwhile reads and responds with a little frown on her face and a more ‘yes that’s so true, I had better adjust’. Just a thought when she is as old as me surely she too will simply laugh and go ‘haven’t changed since I was 12 so not going to happen now’.

Here are the quotes… no clues which one for who?

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.

Ironically enough, in the same way that fear brings to pass what one is afraid of, likewise a forced intention makes impossible what one forcibly wishes… Pleasure is, and must remain, a side-effect or by-product, and is destroyed and spoiled to the degree to which it is made a goal in itself.

Here’s a link to the article:

Galatians – winding down

Final chapter:

My brothers and sisters, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. For if those who are nothing think they are something, they deceive themselves. All must test their own work; then that work, rather than their neighbor’s work, will become a cause for pride. For all must carry their own loads.
Those who are taught the word must share in all good things with their teacher.
Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh, but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all and especially for those of the family of faith.
See what large letters I make when I am writing in my own hand! It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh who try to compel you to be circumcised—only that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. Even the circumcised do not themselves obey the law, but they want you to be circumcised so that they may boast about your flesh. May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world. For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything, but a new creation is everything! As for those who will follow this rule—peace be upon them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God.
From now on, let no one make trouble for me, for I carry the marks of Jesus branded on my body.
May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers and sisters. Amen (Gal. 6:1-18).

Ever so practical (after the rant… the necessary rant, so we will call it ‘after the clarity to establish reality’). Bear one another’s burdens, and we must carry our own loads. Then he picks up the pen himself (v. 11 and following) and brings things back to what I consider is his view on the world, so much so that circumcision, that central sign of Israel’s covenant is not an issue (so can never become an issue, and by implication, neither can the law as a whole be made into an issue), only NEW CREATION counts; the change of era is here, that is the ONLY issue. Nothing is the same NOW. Everything else is viewed through the new reality of new creation, new creation that has been brought into being through the cross.

And a comment on ‘the Israel of God’. One can argue that Paul always uses the term ‘Israel’ to apply to ethnic Israel, and that could be true. However here he is using the term and writing of God’s Israel in a book where he has stressed who are Abraham’s descendants – those of faith where there is no Jew / Gentile divide, hence I favour that he is using the term (and remember he is a Jew) of those of faith, regardless of ethnicity. The sentence that contains this phrase immediately follows that of ‘circumcision not counting’ and only ‘new creation’ having value. If he is (and I am not convinced that he is) using the phrase to have an exclusive ethnic content it would be following the discussion with Judaism as to who is Israel, as ‘not all Israel is Israel’. Either way, he using the term primarily, or exclusively, as a faith term. And ending the letter with ‘brothers and sisters, so let it be’ might be a normal way to close off but in the context of this letter it was totally appropriate. He a Jew by ethnicity and they Gentiles are one family.

Freedom with a view

Another chapter – a big bite but sits together.

For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
Listen! I, Paul, am telling you that, if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you. Once again I testify to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obliged to obey the entire law. You who want to be reckoned as righteous by the law have cut yourselves off from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working through love.
You were running well; who prevented you from obeying the truth? Such persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. A little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough. I am confident about you in the Lord that you will not think otherwise. But whoever it is that is confusing you will pay the penalty. But my brothers and sisters, why am I still being persecuted if I am still preaching circumcision? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed. I wish those who unsettle you would castrate themselves!
For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters, only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become enslaved to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.
Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity, debauchery, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another (Gal. 5:1-26).

Seems Paul thinks he has nailed the issue – ‘stand free, do not come under a yoke of slavery’. Now he puts in a little ‘balance’ (Paul balanced?). ‘Only do not use your freedom for…’

Love, live by the Spirit, be led by the Spirit… the freedom is not as a result of telling people where to go, we live in the context of others, we are not islands apart, hence as always a relational dynamic comes into Paul’s ethics. [I consider that his ethics are eschatological – a new era is our context – and relational. It is never law-based as to ‘right / wrong’ independent of those two elements. He raises the stakes higher, so for example, he does not pull on an ethic such as ‘do not lie’, but calls us not to leave a falsehood, something that can be done without ever lying.]

There is the strong contrast of ‘works of the flesh’ and ‘fruit of the Spirit’. Paul is a little cheeky using the term ‘works’ and ‘flesh’ as there has to be more than a passing undercurrent of ‘works of the law’ and ‘circumcision’.

Fruit of the Spirit. Does not mean no discipline, no effort, but the contrast to ‘works’ is marked. It starts with the connection to Jesus, standing in that context to such an extent that any other relationship is secondary, and certainly resisting to come under any aspect of control; then seeing others so that we are positioned for them and indeed ‘enslaved to one another’. Freedom has to come first. It is, for me, as per Jesus who laid down his life for the world, but FIRST said no-one can take my life from me.

The battle then is ‘flesh’ and ‘S/spirit’. Lean in to the Spirit… make mistakes… but lean again… and the fruit begins to grow. Freedom to lay our lives down, but never to be enslaved by someone else.

Enslavement – whether Jewish or Gentile

I did say this would be a run through the book, not in detail, so a whole chapter this time round.

My point is this: heirs, as long as they are minors, are no better than those who are enslaved, though they are the owners of all the property, but they remain under guardians and trustees until the date set by the father. So with us; while we were minors, we were enslaved to the elemental principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir through God.
Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to beings that by nature are not gods. Now, however, that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and beggarly elemental principles? How can you want to be enslaved to them again? You are observing special days and months and seasons and years. I am afraid that my work for you may have been wasted.
Brothers and sisters, I beg you: become as I am, for I also have become as you are. You have done me no wrong. You know that it was because of a physical infirmity that I first announced the gospel to you; though my condition put you to the test, you did not scorn or despise me but welcomed me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus. What has become of the goodwill you felt? For I testify that, had it been possible, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me. Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth? They make much of you but for no good purpose; they want to exclude you, so that you may make much of them. It is good to be made much of for a good purpose at all times and not only when I am present with you. My little children, for whom I am again in the pain of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, I wish I were present with you now and could change my tone, for I am perplexed about you.
Tell me, you who desire to be subject to the law, will you not listen to the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by an enslaved woman and the other by a free woman. One, the child of the enslaved woman, was born according to the flesh; the other, the child of the free woman, was born through the promise. Now this is an allegory: these women are two covenants. One woman, in fact, is Hagar, from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery. Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the other woman corresponds to the Jerusalem above; she is free, and she is our mother. For it is written,
“Rejoice, you childless one, you who bear no children,
burst into song and shout, you who endure no birth pangs,
for the children of the desolate woman are more numerous
than the children of the one who is married.”
Now you, my brothers and sisters, are children of the promise, like Isaac. But just as at that time the child who was born according to the flesh persecuted the child who was born according to the Spirit, so it is now also. But what does the scripture say? “Drive out the enslaved woman and her child, for the child of the enslaved woman will not share the inheritance with the child of the free woman.” So then, brothers and sisters, we are children, not of an enslaved woman but of the free woman.

Again a few arguments in here that don’t cut it logically for us. The section on Hagar and Sarah for example. Who decides that Hagar corresponds to ‘the present Jerusalem’? This is not self-evident. We have to allow the argument of the first century to be just that, and as we do not know all the backstory we are also coming at this a little in the dark. It is possible that the Judaizers were using that very story in the opposite direction that Paul uses it and he is ‘forced’ into giving the opposite interpretation to theirs. What remains is his beef is over the issue of freedom, and his sight is from the future. The current era is no longer his framework, Christ has come and everything else is re-calibrated or annulled.

Here are a few pull-out parts for me.

The Jew / Gentile element of the cross is highlighted. He is born under the law (Jewish) as well as being born of a woman (human) in order to redeem those who were under the law (Jews). Paul is no moderate, to be under the law was to be under ‘elemental spirits’. He comes as close as one can to suggesting that the law (defining Israel) was to Israel what the ‘elemental spirits’ that defined and held Gentile nations in bondage was to them. Certainly it is through the coming of the Spirit that they cross over and become children of God. Although Jews were those who were going to inherit (as physical descendants of Abraham, so different to Gentiles) until the date set (the fullness of times) they were no better than those who were enslaved (Gentiles).

For Paul Jesus is everything, and he writes this as a Jew. The turning of the ages changed everything for him.

Jesus comes at the ‘fullness of times’. He comes, not immediately post the ‘fall’, though the Tri-une God journeys with ‘Adam, Eve’ and all their offspring down the centuries as they leave Eden, carrying the effects of the Fall with them. He does not come immediately post the exile when there is a major dislocation at numerous levels from the promises. He comes at the fullness of times. When the world is under an all-but one world government, when Caesar is in Rome making blasphemous claims (exact counter claims to the ‘gospel’, using the very same term euangelion of the wonderful good news that went from Rome to one and all). Demons are visible and present, even within the synagogue; the one nation that was to be free and lead others to freedom openly confesses that they too had no other king than Caesar. The fullness of times, when there was no hope for the world because the one hope (Israel) was under bondage. Not even the Temple as a house of prayer for all nations (Gentiles) had a semblance of redemptive presence, thus Jesus announced that not one stone of the Temple would remain on another.

Jesus does not come before time, but comes to destroy all bondage when the enslavement was complete. Jew and Gentile, both, all under the rulership of the dark powers, the prince of this world.

And a very practical statement:

They make much of you but for no good purpose; they want to exclude you, so that you may make much of them.

Hard-hitting but ever so perceptive. They focus on you, but not to promote you… so that the result is that they are the ‘big people’. Gas-lighting; narcissism.

Freedom is through Jesus; nothing added.

No longer… a new era

Brothers and sisters, I give an example from daily life: once a person’s will has been ratified, no one adds to it or annuls it. Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring; it does not say, “And to offsprings,” as of many, but it says, “And to your offspring,” that is, to one person, who is Christ. My point is this: the law, which came four hundred thirty years later, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise. For if the inheritance comes from the law, it no longer comes from the promise, but God granted it to Abraham through the promise.
Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring would come to whom the promise had been made, and it was ordained through angels by a mediator. Now a mediator involves more than one party, but God is one.
Is the law then opposed to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could make alive, then righteousness would indeed come through the law. But the scripture has imprisoned all things under the power of sin, so that what was promised through the faith of Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.
Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be reckoned as righteous by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek; there is no longer slave or free; there is no longer male and female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise (Gal. 3:11-29).

Logic and argument in the first Century world does not always accord with what we might consider a reasoned argument. Paul pulls on the singular ‘offspring’, and as per English the word could be singular or ‘seed’ as in referring to many actual individual seeds. Even if we say that the logic seems a little thin we remember that for Paul it is the radical inbreaking of a new era that means he can now put (for him) the definitive reading on the promise. The promise was to Abraham and to his one seed – Jesus. The argument is beyond the use of the singular word, it is the self-evident reality that the many ‘seeds’ of Abraham did not bring in the promised era.

The law then is added later, but Paul presents it as temporary, coming 430 years after the promise, and only in place until Christ came… and only for the Jews (note again the ‘we’ word: ‘our disciplinarian’). The law is not opposed to the promises of God, because it is not an alternative – salvation by Jesus or salvation by law would never have been something that Paul would have considered! And at one level, the law as law, simply makes plain that the Jews too are imprisoned under sin. The singular use of the word ‘sin’ indicates that Paul sees it as a power, not as the collection of all the bad things we have done.

And at the end of this section we have the ‘in Christ there is neither… nor’ central statement (Gal. 3:28). The NRSV updated edition adds a little bit ‘no longer’, but the addition is following the thrust. It is all about the coming of a new era, thus I think the ‘no longer’ is justified. Everything before is placed in a temporary setting, the law having distinguished Jew from Gentile – then. But in Christ the law has gone (covenant is fulfilled) so the the old divides of ‘Jew and Greek’ do not work; the division of ‘slave and free’ is also deeply significant, for the culture within the Graeco-Roman world was all about maintaining class culture. Meals were highly structured, with who sat where, and how one reciprocated being vital. Given that the ekklesia gathered around the meal that class structure disappeared. (Consider the meal in Corinth where Paul said ‘I can give you no credit’ for what you are doing for they were perpetuating the rich / poor divide, thus it was no longer the Lord’s table they were gathering around but the table of culture; the instruction in James concerning a rich person coming in and being given the best seat, the seat being at the meal table; Jesus instruction not to invvite those who can reciprocate.)

The in / out divide has gone that religion created – and always creates; the political outworking of the very undergirding of Imperial culture was ended; and the careful change of grammar from ‘or’ to ‘male and female’ indicates a major eschatological element. The quote is from Genesis – how it was in the beginning. Here is the eschatological frame for in the age to come there will be no more marriage. There will be no more that the only covenantal relationship will be in marriage, we will be one, all of us. Sex will disappear but the level of intimacy and knowing one another will be what marriage presses in for. Male and female will not mark us out.

The closing verse then sums it up:

if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise

Not if you are Jewish you are a descendant, but if, and therefore only if one is in Christ, for the inheritance does not come through the law (something temporary that never produced the promised blessings of Abraham to the world, and never could).

As Paul lays out his case one can understand why he was willing to oppose people to their face. The coming of Christ has ended something, has ended division, so eat together, and do not make anyone into a ‘less than’ person.

The ekklesia that I maintain was not about how many people can we get in here through the door so that our numbers grow (maybe important if the view is ‘they need a ticket to be secure’, but more often simply to confirm how great we are!) but was about the total transformation of the oikoumene, the nicely ordered world that was simply part of the system that imprisoned people (sin). The ekklesia had to model a new way of being, that was a sign that the old era was no longer dictating the future. Theology and social outworking went together; heaven and incarnation were necessary for ‘glory’ to come, and if the glory of God was to fill the whole earth, maybe we can understand the ‘bolshiness’ of Paul.

Curses and the like

You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly exhibited as crucified! The only thing I want to learn from you is this: Did you receive the Spirit by doing the works of the law or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? Having started with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh? Did you experience so much for nothing?—if it really was for nothing. Well then, does God supply you with the Spirit and work miracles among you by your doing the works of the law or by your believing what you heard?
Just as Abraham “believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” so, you see, those who believe are the descendants of Abraham. And the scripture, foreseeing that God would reckon as righteous the gentiles by faith, declared the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “All the gentiles shall be blessed in you.” For this reason, those who believe are blessed with Abraham who believed.
For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey all the things written in the book of the law.” Now it is evident that no one is reckoned as righteous before God by the law, for “the one who is righteous will live by faith.” But the law does not rest on faith; on the contrary, “Whoever does the works of the law will live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”— in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the gentiles, so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith (Gal. 3:1-14).

Paul is coming to the end of his ‘I confronted this person… I went to Jerusalem… so that you might be free…’ Now he turns his focus directly to his hearers. ‘You are stupid for even listening to these people who are calling for you to submit to the Jewish law’. He suggests they have been subject to witchcraft (control, manipulation etc.) and goes on to point out the path that these Judaizers have set before them will far from be a blessing but a curse.

A couple of notes: the miracles being done among them is not past tense but present tense. It is not referring to when Paul was with them, but that they had an ongoing charismatic experience.

The works of the law are not the typical understanding that we do good works and so will be saved (as per Martin Luther who lived with intense guilt and then discovered that Paul said we were justified by faith and his guilt was relieved). That understanding leads to a contrast between law (Jewish faith) and grace (Christian). The contrast though, in Paul, is not that of law and grace but it is of eras. Pre-Christ ‘salvation’ was also by grace (covenant), and those who were saved by grace were marked out by being ‘led by the law’, the law being the guiding path for them. One could tell who was of the ‘chosen people’ by their Torah observance. They did not obey the law to be accepted, but because they were accepted (covenantal grace) they followed the law. In Paul those who are the children of God were those who were led by the Spirit. Jewish faith (then and now) was not a faith of works in order to be accepted, but the works of the law were simply the markers that set them apart as those who were accepted by grace. The contrast was not law and grace, but law and Spirit. It is a contrast due to eras.

Both the Jewish faith and the Christian faith were based on grace. This does not mean there were not Jews who twisted the faith and in effect their acceptance was (in their minds / hearts) based on doing what was right, in obedience to the law. In the same way (then and now) there are those of the Christian faith who reduce their faith to ‘doing what is right’ and never embracing acceptance.

The works of the law are understood to be observance of the food laws, observance of the Sabbath and circumcision. Here in Galatians there is certainly a spill over to a legalism, but the argument that was being presented to these Gentile believers was along the lines of – your faith takes you so far; Christian faith is not non-Jewish, so to be truly descendants of Abraham you have to embrace the faith he had and so you have to submit to the Jewish law.

There are of course implications in this with regard to an embrace of grace, and an implication for what the Gospel means for Jews as well as what it means for Gentiles. The law in this era has nothing to do with acceptance before God (‘salvation’ if we want to use that term). If one (a Jew) wishes to abide by it it cannot be used to elevate them to a higher level, and cannot be used as a proof that they are ‘chosen’. Faith (in Jesus) is the only criterion, and faith without any law element; if faith is embraced then that person (Jew or Gentile) is descended from Abraham. Paul himself, a Jew who believed in Jesus, did not insist on others keeping the law and clearly based his personal life on a law-free expression.

All of this emphasis is from someone who had an impeccable background as a Jew. The change of era, something truly apocalyptic had taken place in the coming of Jesus. Nothing was the same again.

If these Gentile believers were to go back and seek as Gentiles to live under a former era something would kick in at a very significant level. It would no longer be adopting acceptance through grace but expressing the outworking by obedience to the law, it would mean they were to be judged by their obedience to every part of the law (and not simply the three markers above of ‘the works of the law’)! The shift was because of the change of era.

In verses 10-14 we come to the cross, and there is a very strong Jewish element to the cross. Take the law out of the context of covenant and then any reliance on the law is doomed to failure, and in reality historic Israel had indeed failed. The sign of it was the exile (to Babylon) and the ongoing bondage / exile to Greek powers and subsequently to Roman oppression. They were no longer a free people for the sake of the nations, but had become but one of the nations (confessing we have no king but Caesar); they too were under the condemnation alongside all other nations, locked up under the power of sin. This can be summarised as Israel is under ‘the curse of the law’, they were no longer the head but now the tail. They were suffering everything that Deuteronomy said they would suffer should they become disobedient.

Jesus, therefore died in Israel’s place, he became a curse for us (Paul often using ‘us’ when he is identifying himself among Israel, and ‘you’ when he is drawing out the contrast of the ‘Gentiles’).

He seems to set it out in three steps. First for ‘us’ Jesus became a curse, and it is clearly for ‘Israel’ for it is not some general curse but it is the curse of the law:

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us

This was one of the reasons the cross was a ‘stumbling block for Jews’. How could someone cursed be the Messiah? To claim that would be nothing less than a blasphemy – little wonder Paul was blind for three days. Three days… that was the journey time he needed to go from cross to resurrection, the resurrection being God’s affirmation that Jesus was marked as the son of God by power (Rom. 1:4). ‘Son of God’ not being a term denoting divinity but being a term associated with humanity and in particular with Israel. If Israel was to be the nation that brings light to the world, but had descended into darkness, into bondage there was no hope for the world. Hence Jesus dies as a Jew, born under the law, to deliver Israel. He becomes Israel, so that Israel might be redeemed (and redefined, not as all in Abraham are Israel, but all in Jesus are descendants of Abraham).

The second element then comes in to view:

in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the gentiles

God chooses Abraham / Israel for the Gentiles, the purpose was so that the blessing of Abraham would be present throughout the world (hence ‘salvation’ is not to be thought of in a narrow way of a ‘ticket out of here’ but of being set apart for the world; to be a doorway from heaven to earth. Israel as we have suggested are now far from that, hence the need of the cross (more will follow in Chapter 4). Now that Jesus has become the curse and that God has vindicated him the blessing of Abraham can be released. What was locked up, the original promise can be again set in motion, and that setting in motion is defined for Paul in the summarising phrase:

so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

And now Paul uses ‘we’ because the ‘we’ is everyone, Jew or Gentile. In this era there is only one ‘we’. (Later as we will read ‘neither Jew nor Greek’.) In this new era (and Paul began the letter with freedom from the powers of this present evil age / era) Jesus is the doorway in, the door for Jew and for Gentile.

If we drop the question related to ‘who then is saved’ in the sense of ‘I have my ticket so am saved’ and understand salvation is ‘salvation from powers’ and ‘salvation to purpose’; if we put Jesus at the centre and then accept that there is only one people in the new era, hence they must eat together (please remember this Peter… and Barnabas) we will understand Paul’s fire. The new era is here. There are loose ends for the old era is still around us; but in this letter he is not looking to tie up loose ends he is calling for a break with any and all aspects of the former era. The loose ends do not clarify the central element: live by the Spirit, and all who do are descendants of Abraham.

Only ‘new creation’ now counts for anything (Gal. 6:14).

No small argument this one!

But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face because he stood self-condemned, for until certain people came from James, he used to eat with the gentiles. But after they came, he drew back and kept himself separate for fear of the circumcision faction. And the other Jews joined him in this hypocrisy, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not acting consistently with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the gentiles to live like Jews?”
We ourselves are Jews by birth and not gentile sinners, yet we know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through the faith of Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by the faith of Christ and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law. But if, in our effort to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have been found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! But if I build up again the very things that I once tore down, then I demonstrate that I am a transgressor. For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing (Gal. 2:10-20).

Now we have some fun verses. Followers of Jesus, first Century believers having a good old dust up. The guy that can certainly be viewed as the central character from the original 12, and the central character beyond the 12 who has shaped our faith more than probably anyone else. They don’t agree! Surely on some of these issues Jesus could have put down some clear guidelines for them, it was pretty obvious the whole Jew / Gentile issue would come into play very soon, and before the Fall of Jerusalem that Jesus spoke so accurately into. He, as Risen Lord, had spent days teaching on the kingdom of God, so I can only presume he taught in such a way that did not mean they would forever avoid difficulties, disputes and disagreements. Unity of agreement seems to me to be overrated.

So in simple terms Peter is willing to eat with Gentiles (and eating of course was much more than satisfying hunger but demonstrating their oneness together) until some people come down from Jerusalem claiming to represent the Jerusalem view. Peter conforms, and then shock, even Mr Bridge builder Barnabas pulls back. Paul saw all this behaviour as hypocrisy – of presenting something that was an ‘act’ that was not true. Paul then is armed and confronts Peter publicly (oh to be a fly on the wall!).

Peter knows that there was to be no division, so what on earth caused him (and Barnabas!) to pull back? Fear is mentioned, people pleasing I am sure was involved, but I think there must have also been a convincing argument, and I consider it had to be a ‘missiological’ argument.

Building bridges, not offending, even compromise for the sake of the Gospel is all part of missiological principles, so here is my plausible suggestion:

The argument went.

If you eat with Gentiles, and show no respect for the law you will make our task in Judea all-but impossible. How will we tell this to our law abiding people who have found faith in Jesus as Messiah. They will be offended as your behaviour in eating with the Gentiles presents our faith as something in opposition to our historic faith, the faith of Abraham. Some of them might even lose their new found faith in Jesus. The offence to those who have found faith will be enormous and when we come to share our faith in Jesus with our fellow-Jews we will have no entrance there; they will immediately reject everything we have to say. Peter, this will get out, so pull back now, FOR THE SAKE OF THE GOOD NEWS.


And here is Paul on his mission throughout the empire. ‘You are grafted into the historic people of God, and grafted in without needing to conform to the law’. Two missiological principles; two clashing arguments.

I love Paul’s approach – he does not reflect that they sat down to discuss how the two opposing views might work out… he simply wades in with ‘you are in the wrong and I am calling it out’. I like the approach but cannot claim that it gives me the right to do that. But for Paul it was the freedom of the Gospel that gave him his strength. Maybe his approach did cause some issues in the home land of Jerusalem (and we can read in Acts of how nervous they were when he showed up back there!) but the coming of Jesus, for Paul, meant the whole world was now re-ordered and this had implications for Gentiles – and for Jews. Jews, as chosen were no longer the centre, but Jesus as chosen was the centre. They both had to realign themselves around him, and that meant freedom was the watchword and the two peoples had to learn how not to offend one another (a big theme in Romans) but he insisted that in the big world there could be no calling for Gentiles to conform to Jewish practices (works of the law) and no pulling back of Jews because of viewing Gentiles as unclean.

There is so much in this conflict that could be explored, but at least again we see that ‘freedom’ and togetherness based on freedom was the guiding principle. Not offending those who were hiding behind religion certainly was not an option that Paul entertained.

The latter verses in the section above could still be the continuation of what Paul said to Peter as it is hard to work out where the ‘I said to Cephas’ ends. That section also involves some strange, convoluting language and arguments – strange at least to us in the way that we approach logic. In particular when he says,

But if I build up again the very things that I once tore down, then I demonstrate that I am a transgressor.

He is referring to if he should build / implement again the law (what Peter had done out of intimidation) then he would be a transgressor. Given that transgression was measured by the law this indeed sounds strange; but if we realise that for Paul the coming of Jesus changed everything we can make some sense of it. The future in the coming of Jesus caused the past to be re-calibrated, the future was not to be understood from the past. For some theologians the shift was so remarkable that they suggested that Paul was so impacted when he found Jesus that he discovered the ‘solution’ and from there worked back as to what the ‘problem’ was. The problem was not ‘guilt’ (as per Martin Luther) and Jesus took his guilt away. He found the solution but as he was already ‘righteous according to the law’ the problem had to lie elsewhere. There has to be a great element of truth in that in that he worked from the future and then looked backward to assess everything else, including his former life and the whole chosenness of Israel and the giving of the law. The coming of Jesus caused a disruption to everything. We might well wish to read the Old Testament as pointing forward, but at a very real level we read the New Testament and it points back, re-calibrates what is prior, and even nullifies some of it (‘I died to the law’ for example).

Life now for Paul was the life of Jesus. Nothing else counted. If Peter, Barnabas and others have responded to Jesus, then they can no longer act of out any previous grid; should they do so they would be living an act (hypocrisy), and if pushed I guess he would have to say they had become transgressors!

Off to Jerusalem

Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. I went up in response to a revelation. Then I laid before them (though only in a private meeting with the acknowledged leaders) the gospel that I proclaim among the gentiles, in order to make sure that I was not running, or had not run, in vain. But even Titus, who was with me, was not compelled to be circumcised, though he was a Greek. But because of false brothers and sisters secretly brought in, who slipped in to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might enslave us— we did not submit to them even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might always remain with you. And from those who were supposed to be acknowledged leaders (what they actually were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—those leaders contributed nothing to me. On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel for the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel for the circumcised (for he who worked through Peter making him an apostle to the circumcised also worked through me in sending me to the gentiles), and when James and Cephas and John, who were acknowledged pillars, recognised the grace that had been given to me, they gave to Barnabas and me the right hand of fellowship, agreeing that we should go to the gentiles and they to the circumcised. They asked only one thing, that we remember the poor, which was actually what I was eager to do (Gal. 2:1-10).

Paul met the Lord on his way to Damascus, not in the place where one might expect. It corresponds with the major point in Stephens’s speech in Acts 7 of how God showed up historically elsewhere. He is to be found but not always where we expect. He seems to make a great point in levelling things out – after 14 years. Not a short period of time. There he met with those were supposedly acknowledged leaders, not exactly a great strap line for the line up to the next world changing conference. (Come on now, surely you love this obnoxious not-so-gentleman that we call Paul. He does seem to have a way of cutting through religion and other such barriers.)

Here though we get a little nuance… ‘to make sure I was not running in vain’. He had never mentioned this aspect until this point. Underneath all the ‘no-one gave me this gospel’ presentation he is submissive. He is over-the-top strong as he wants to shock these readers (actually hearers) about their easy compliance and over-yieldeness to those who have come among them, and having done that balances out what they have been hearing.

The two he brings with him is illustrative also of how he is navigating this situation. Barnabas, the bridge builder, the one who sees the best in every situation, Mr. non-judgement (a #9????). Useful to have in any tricky situation, particularly useful for Paul who maybe just could go off on one. And Titus! A Gentile. The issue being over the gospel to the Gentiles, and Paul’s refusal to have converts submit to the law, and in particular the ‘works of the law’ marked by circumcision, food laws and Sabbath-observance. Titus was present. No discussion without it being personal. It can be so easy to make decisions about people, situations (right / wrong) but meet the person; talk and listen to the ‘other’. I have been challenged when I have sat with people who are different to me, such an experience has been the beginning of a change for me, a change even of my previous held beliefs.

Bridge building, listening, and presenting a human face to a tricky situation. It might not resolve every situation but it will certainly be a huge element in making space for the Holy Spirit. (I have much to learn.)

Another aspect that comes through is Paul’s sight of those he has a responsibility for – those false people came in to spy on their freedom (so it was NOT hidden) but he refused to give way for the sake of the Gentile converts.

They found a way of endorsing one another. Not of conforming each other to the other, but of agreement. Apostleship to a people group. In every generation, every situation there is the need for a new apostleship, the outworking of the ETERNAL gospel into a temporal or cultural setting. I might not understand what someone is doing into their setting (and in our world we have to also think beyond ethnic people groups, but into the very spheres of society) but they will have to be bold for the eternal gospel to enter, and they will have to do so without simply copying elsewhere. There are new expressions of the one gospel always… and a huge unifying part: ‘do not forget the poor’.

Not protecting tradition

For I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin, for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.
You have heard, no doubt, of my earlier life in Judaism. I was violently persecuting the church of God and was trying to destroy it. I advanced in Judaism beyond many among my people of the same age, for I was far more zealous for the traditions of my ancestors. But when the one who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace was pleased to reveal his Son to me, so that I might proclaim him among the gentiles, I did not confer with any human, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were already apostles before me, but I went away at once into Arabia, and afterward I returned to Damascus.
Then after three years I did go up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days, but I did not see any other apostle except James the Lord’s brother. In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie! Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia, and I was still unknown by sight to the churches of Judea that are in Christ; they only heard it said, “The one who formerly was persecuting us is now proclaiming the faith he once tried to destroy.” And they glorified God because of me (Gal. 1:11-24)..

The gospel Paul was bringing to the Imperial world was straight from heaven, so a pretty bold claim there; with a reference to his past life and how he excelled in Judaism to a level ‘beyond many among my people of the same age’. All of this led him not to go to Jerusalem at that early stage. (Later he will say he submitted what he had received, but he avoids that aspect here. He is still establishing his ‘independence’ from human influence and authority while insisting his total ‘dependence’ on heaven.) The conflict in Galatians is surrounding the need for the believers there (Gentiles) to fully submit to the Jewish law – he is all-but saying what to do these people who want to impose that even know about all this, for he (Paul) was previously the authority on all this, and given that he met with Cephas (Peter: maybe Paul is a little cheeky using his Jewish name here?) and with James, he is setting the scene for the conflict that he had with Peter when he acted in a hypocritical way after being intimidated by those who came from James (Gal. 2:11-14).

Tradition of his ancestors – he had been zealously committed to protecting on God’s behalf what he perceived God had given. Tradition, this is the God given way, can be so difficult to navigate. Paul is defending the ‘tradition that was given to him’ (to quote from another letter), and is incredibly forthright in condemning should even an angel from heaven come with a different message, with the implication of a message dependent on a previous tradition! Here in these verses he is setting the scene as to why he cannot defend what he used to defend, indeed to defend it he would become a sinner (as opposed to his previous understanding that in defending those traditions he was ‘righteous according to the law).

The coming of Jesus does not tweak what was understood previously, it turns everything on its head. It is not as if we start with what we had (call it the OT for simplicity’s sake) and then draw a straight line forward and go ‘see, now here comes Jesus, it all makes sense’. Rather the past is understood from the future. This understanding continues in the NT approach – a new creation has come so now we figure out from the future the world around us. This is why, though I am very conservative about eschatology I am also very cautious. We don’t get there from here, but there shapes our thinking here.

A difficult set of verses (difficult for me at least!)

In the passage above there is a little tough area for the likes of me (I am referring to the ‘predestination‘ bit). Set apart from before birth. Very reminiscent of Jeremiah (1:4). So what do I say about this, other than I would write those parts very differently(!!)?

  1. If this is close to suggesting something along the lines of traditional ‘predestination’, these verses make it applicable to Paul, not necessarily to you and me.
  2. It is not a reference to salvation but to calling. This is very key in all of Scripture. We tend to make everything about ‘in / out’, ‘get your ticket to be on the bus of salvation’, ‘eternal destiny’ etc., but calling and purpose seems to me the centre. To suggest (OT-wise) Jews are saved and Gentiles are damned seems to miss it, rather than Israel was uniquely chosen to be an access point for heaven to earth.
  3. Any calling was not automatic, for Paul said when the time of calling was made manifest he ‘was not disobedient to the heavenly vision’ (Acts 26:19); the grace of God was not in vain when it was applied to him (1 Cor. 15:10). Nothing seemed to be predetermined and irresistible.
  4. If applicable to all of us, we can only make it apply to our calling / purpose in life. Paul’s was to proclaim Jesus among the Gentiles. We are all set apart for the reason for which we are born (indeed sin is to miss the reason for which we are born); that is innate within us. There is only one ‘me’ (as Oscar Wilde said ‘be yourself, all the others are taken’).

If we pull Scriptures like this out and simply connect them to others we can end up with a strong ‘predestination’ line. However, for me, the weight of Scripture is to hold firm to human responsibility and the possibility of ‘being disobedient’ to who we are (God’s calling if you like). Predestination is to for Martin to be the Martin that is in the image of Christ… the one true human, so it is for me to yield to the work of the Spirit in such a way that I increasingly become who I truly am.

If you disagree with the above, of course you might have been predestined to do so… or maybe I am predestined to be an awkward customer (predetermined to be that specific number on the Enneagram where one just is awkward! And of course, Paul was definitely the same number… and only one more (humble this time) definite element is that I know almost nothing about the Enneagram).

A different gospel

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are confusing you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you, let that one be accursed! As we have said before, so now I repeat, if anyone proclaims to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let that one be accursed!
Am I now seeking human approval or God’s approval? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still pleasing people, I would not be a servant of Christ (Gal. 1:6-10).

The style of the letter is blunt and there are no ‘normal’ niceties up front. There is no ‘so good to see you, I simply want to bring up something…’ Not much to add to what Paul has to say – different gospel, pervert the gospel, let even an angel be cursed if they should bring something different to what brought, and I tell you all that as a servant of God. So your point, Paul, is?!!!!!

The language is remarkably strong. I am challenged by what might qualify as a ‘different gospel’. A while back a couple met Gayle and I for coffee and they explained their approach. Offer English as a second language, a few weeks in share the ‘gospel’ if they do not respond or show some serious interest, it would then be time to move on to someone else as they were obviously not good ‘soil’. Given also that the couple were strongly Calvinist in theology maybe it was God’s fault that they were bad soil?

At the end of our time the question came – would you work with us and support us. The answer was a one word answer and the shorter of the two possible words. Are they presenting a different gospel? Certainly their approach we could not put the word ‘good news’ to it. I think we maybe all have a ‘sub-‘ / not complete gospel, but there has to come a point when the gospel we hold on to and present is so ‘sub-‘ that it is different. And when it is way off maybe the ‘God’ we claim to serve might be a different god to the one that is ‘God’.

In the context of the letter in front of us different has to be measured by how much freedom or bondage is brought. We are likely to move toward error when the result is any level of burdens placed on someone… as has been said before:

The offence of the Gospel is not an offence of who is excluded, but the offence is an offence of who is included.

The door of entry is wide open. The narrow gate was the one that Jesus presented to Jews, those who really thought that favour with God was exclusively theirs. That’s just not how it works,