February 10, 2010
October 14, 2009
There was a request by Jesus for his disciples to view the Last Passover Meal in a new way. Whenever such a Passover meal was to be held in the future, by any of his followers, they were to interpret the meal differently to the way that any had done in the past. They were to remember that he, by his death, was the ultimate saviour who delivers his people from the consequences of their sins. It would be a once a year remembrance. However, because his followers, Jews and Gentiles, had this one common allegiance to the Lord who had died for them they often came together to share a meal but more frequently than once a year. Yet at these meals there was no requirement for them to conduct a Christian ceremony nor does it appear that they did so. If the request of Jesus was meant to be an instruction applicable beyond Passover meals and to be understood as a commandment for his people, both Jews and Gentiles, for all time, it is odd that of all the Gospels, only Luke records the words, “Do this in remembrance of me”. One would expect to find such a global and important commandment to be found in all Gospels. Furthermore, unless one considers the sentiments of 1 Corinthians 11: 23 – 26 to constitute the single exception, no such instruction is given by Paul, James, Peter or John in any of their letters.
Many of the Corinthian Christians came from and still lived in a pagan world and had to be careful about what they ate at their meals, community or otherwise. They were to refrain from eating meat that they knew had been offered to idols. Neither the wine they drank, nor the bread they ate, indeed, nothing about their meals, was to be associated with the gods of the pagan world. When, as Christians, they shared meals with each other they were to recognise the bond that they had with each other because they had the one Lord who had died for them. They were to treat one another as all one in Christ and this was to be evident in the conduct of their meals. They came together to eat. They did not come to participate in a Christian ceremony. When Paul refers to, as the translators have it, “The Lord’s Supper” it is not his title for a Christian ceremony. He is making a reference to a meal which does not have the Lord’s stamp upon it. It does not seem that there ever was a ceremony or rite observed by Christians of the New Testament reflective of the Last Passover Meal. Given the nature of the gospel and the freedom from Law that it entails – for freedom Christ has set us free (Gal. 5: 1) it would at least be very odd if not contradictory for there to be any ceremony the observance of which was mandatory.
If we were to have a community meal like the Corinthian Christians we would need to get it right where they got it wrong. It would need to be a meal in which Christ, the one who died for us and by that death brought us together, was honoured. We would love one another no matter what our differences in education, social standing, gender, or culture because we would see ourselves as all one under Christ, the Christ who died for us Others would know that we were disciples of Jesus because of the love that we would display towards one another (John 13: 35). It would be “Christ Centred Fellowship” – “Christ Centred Communion.” And Christ’s death and its significance for us would be obvious. The Lord’s death would be proclaimed.
August 28, 2009
The Law: Its role was to educate, to reveal sin, to curb sinful behaviour and to lead the Jew to Christ. It has fulfilled its God given role.
The Spirit: The Holy Spirit has been given as the great gift of God to us, his people, we who are in Christ, to transform us, writing righteousness in our minds, bringing forth in us the fruit of love, peace and joy and more.
Ceremonies and Regulations: Once, the observance of certain ceremonies and regulations was necessary but that is not the case now. However, if for instance ceremonial observance is our choice, we must be careful never to imagine that such a manner of living gains merit with God. It cannot. We must never boast about our ceremonial behaviour. Such boasting is vain.
The Gospel: Central to the gospel is the fact that the Lord Jesus Christ died for our sins to rescue us. We need to boast about the cross. Such boasting is our Lord’s due. By God’s grace we have been saved through faith, trusting in our Lord Jesus Christ alone. We are freed from the Law. For freedom, Christ has set us free.
What are we to make of the ceremonies, Baptism and Holy Communion, often referred to as the Sacraments? They are subjects for next week and the following.
August 27, 2009
Another area of the Jewish Law that was bound to cause difficulties between Gentile and Jewish believers was the observance of special days including Sabbaths. Leviticus 23: 1 – 44 refers to seven special Sabbaths to be observed each year along with the weekly Sabbath and makes references to various special festivals. The prophets forthrightly condemned the Israelites for their failure to observe the Sabbaths. Ezekiel, for instance, recorded God saying in words of condemnation, “They shut their eyes to the keeping of my Sabbaths” (Ez. 22: 26). Yet, Paul wrote in Romans, “One man considers one day more sacred than another, another man considers every day alike” (Rom. 14: 5). It didn’t really matter. As a young man I had a very restrictive view of Sunday. It was not for working around the house. It was not for going swimming. This was not an uncommon view of many Christians at the time. If I had been alive in Paul’s days I would have sided with many a Jew.
Circumcision, Food Laws and Special Days
Paul enlightened by the gospel, had the following perspectives: “Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing” (1 Cor. 7: 19). Only the extraordinary gospel could bring about such an extraordinary statement from this well educated and zealous Jew, now an apostle of Christ. Again he wrote, “He who eats meat eats to the Lord and he who abstains does so to the Lord”. And again, “Each person should be fully convinced in his own mind … he who regards one day special does so to the Lord” (Rom. 14: 5, 6).
However, what one does in conforming to a sensitive conscience, or out of habit or felt need is one thing. To consider certain ceremonies or what some may consider rites, or forms of behaviour as mandatory in order to win God’s acceptance is quite another. Such a point of view undermines the gospel and the grace of God evident in the cross of Christ. Out of commitment to the truth of the gospel Paul with great concern for them, fervently wrote to the Galatians, “They try to compel you to be circumcised” (Gal. 6: 12). In a letter to Timothy, he warned him about false teachers, “who forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods” (1 Tim. 4: 3). To the Colossian Christians he wrote, “Don’t let anyone judge you with regard to a religious festival, a new moon celebration or a Sabbath day … or by what you eat or drink” (Col. 2: 16). And again to the Galatians he wrote, “You are observing special days and months and seasons and years. I fear for you that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you” (Gal. 4: 10).
For Paul it didn’t matter whether or not you ate certain foods or abstained. It didn’t matter whether you observed special days or you didn’t. It didn’t matter if you were circumcised or if you weren’t. What you did have to consider was the spiritual welfare of yourself and others. In giving instructions on marriage and singleness Paul wrote, “Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God’s commandments is what counts” (1 Cor. 7: 19). To understand what Paul might have had in mind by his references to “commandments”, consider what he wrote in a similar vein to the Galatians. In that letter he declared, “In Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” (Gal. 5: 6). Again, he wrote to them, “Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything. What counts is a new creation” (Gal. 6: 15). Of course the significance of circumcision was not the same as that for keeping special days or for abstaining from eating certain foods. Each matter had its own significance. The one thing they had in common however was that although the spiritual welfare of oneself and others needed to be considered, the observance of any of these was not to be regarded as obligatory unless, as in the case of eating meat knowingly offered to idols, it was considered to lead unavoidably to serious error.
August 26, 2009
Ceremonies and Regulations
We should now be able to answer the question, “Why, in the Galatian letter, was Paul so concerned with circumcision?” Centuries before the Mosaic Law was introduced, God instituted male circumcision to be observed by Abraham and his descendants as a sign of the contract that God established between himself and his people (Gen. 17: 10). It later found a place in the Law given to Moses (Lev. 12: 3). The law and practice of circumcision was exceedingly significant. It seems from the letter that Paul wrote to the Galatians that certain Jewish people were insisting that Gentiles who had responded to the gospel needed to be circumcised, just as they were circumcised. Perhaps they argued that no one could legitimately call himself a child of God unless he abided by that ancient law that had indicated that God had chosen them. And the Galatian Gentiles who had become recipients of God’s kindness listened and Paul was greatly disturbed! He did not give thanks to God for them. Instead he exclaimed, “You foolish Galatians who has bewitched you?” (Gal. 3: 1) and “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and turning to a different gospel which is really no gospel at all” (Gal. 1: 6, 7). In his letter to the church at Rome Paul appealed to Abraham to demonstrate that before the law was ever given Abraham was justified by faith. In the Galatian letter, he appealed to the two sons born to Abraham, to make a point about slavery and freedom. One son, Ishmael was born to Hagar, a slave. The other son, Isaac, through whom the promises of God were fulfilled, was born to Sarah, a free woman. By analogy he argued that those of the Judaism of his day are children of Hagar, in slavery, while those who are the recipients of the promises of God are free, children of Sarah. They are free from the Law, even the law of circumcision (Gal. 4: 21 – 31).
Circumcision was not the only item of Jewish Law that caused difficulties in the early churches. The people of Israel, in observing the ancient Mosaic Law, recognised some foods as clean and others unclean, not to be eaten. For example, the camel, the rabbit and the pig were to be regarded as unclean along with insects and certain birds (Lev. 11: 1 – 47). With the coming of the gospel, the Law having played its part, such matters could be understood differently. Even Jesus declared, that it was not what went into the mouth that made a person unclean it was what came out of the mouth from the heart (Matt. 15: 17 – 20). Paul was concerned however, that those, perhaps mainly Gentile believers, who felt free to eat whatever they choose, did not endanger the faith of those, perhaps mainly Jewish believers, who had restrictive eating practices (Rom. 14: 1-15; 1 Cor. 8: 1 – 13). Indeed when it came to eating meat that had knowingly been offered to idols, his instruction seems to be that the meat was generally off limits for everyone, perhaps because the knowledge of what they were doing would very likely cause problems of conscience (1 Cor. 10: 23 – 11: 1). Though the spiritual welfare of others was always to the fore of his thinking, Paul had never the less come to realise that the Jewish food laws no longer strictly applied. In his letter to the church at Rome, he declared that no food in itself, was unclean (Rom 14: 14) and in a letter to the church at Corinth, he stated or agreed that, “Food does not bring us nearer to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat and no better off if we do” (1 Cor. 8: 8).
August 18, 2009
see part III here
The Law has run its course. The Lord Jesus Christ has rescued us. However, if we are no longer under the Law, by what manner do we now live? There is a sense in which we still live under the principles of the Law, under the governorship of God, but they are the deep principles of the Law majestically brought to the surface in those two great Laws – to love God with everything we are and with all our strength and to love our neighbour as ourselves. Paul himself wrote, “He who has loved his neighbour has fulfilled the Law … Love is the fulfilment of the Law” (Rom 13: 8, 10) and again, “The entire Law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself” (Gal. 5:14). Indeed living under the governorship of the Lord Jesus, the Son of God involves loving one another as he has loved us (John 13: 34, 15: 12). However, such living is under a new contractual arrangement with new possibilities. In both his letter to the church at Rome and in his letter to the churches in Galatia, Paul made it abundantly clear – that we now live under new circumstances (Rom. 8: 1 – 16; Gal. 5: 16 – 25). These new circumstances were foretold by Jeremiah – God’s law in our minds, written on our hearts (Jer. 31: 33, 34) or as Ezekiel put it, having a new heart and a new spirit (Ezek. 36: 26). Wonderfully, God has given us his own Spirit. We have been made a new creation. We have a new life. God enables us to live righteously by the work of his Spirit within us. Thus Paul addresses the Christians at Galatia, “Live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature … the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.” With irony he states, “Against such things there is no law.” He continues, “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit let us walk by the Spirit” (Gal. 5: 16 – 25). I had a knee that made it painful to walk and difficult to walk properly. I was operated upon and given a new knee. Now that I live with a new knee I need to learn to walk with that new knee. We have been given a new heart, a new mind. We now live by the Spirit of God. We must learn to walk daily under the influence of that same Spirit.
If we attempt to live under the Law, but not the spirit of the Law and not under the influence of the Spirit of God, our lives will be a failure. Only rarely does Paul, James, Peter, or John speak of living the Christian life by direct reference to the Law. The same applies when they write of the transgressions of either believers or unbelievers. In none of his letters do we find Paul appealing to the Mosaic Law as that Law by which we must live, though when he finds it helpful, he will appeal to a specific part of the Mosaic Law (e.g. Eph. 6: 1 – 3). To the contrary we find him saying, “Once we were held prisoners by the law” … but now, for freedom “Christ has set us free. Stand firm then and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Gal. 3: 23, 5: 1).
August 14, 2009
See part II here
Freedom from the Law
The Law is no longer in charge. The Law is good and right (Rom 7: 12) but no one is good and right by the Law (Rom. 3: 20). The Law condemns but Christ saves and that salvation comes through faith in him. “Before faith came”, Paul wrote, “we were held prisoners by the Law, locked up until faith should be revealed. So the Law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. Now that faith has come we are no longer under the supervision of the Law”(Gal. 3: 23 – 25). The Mosaic Law, part of the Law and the Prophets, had a role to play for the people of God, but upon the coming of the Christ, its role came to an end. And through Christ, but not through the Law, the floodgates were opened for Gentiles to become sons of the living God (Gal. 3: 26), with no distinction to be made between them and the Jew. No Gentile and now no Jew is obligated to live under the Law. It is time to put the training wheels aside and to learn to ride the real thing without them.
Why however, do we so often and to such a great extent live as though we were under a type of Mosaic Law – feeling obligated to submit ourselves to certain ceremonies or what some may call rites, as though they were essential?
There are a number of reasons but the root of our problem is our failure to understand the nature of the gospel of God and the significance of the outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit on his people.
The gospel has many facets, but at its heart it concerns Christ, the Son of God. The letter of Paul to the churches in Galatia focuses on the matter of circumcision. It begins and ends however, with statements about the Lord Jesus Christ. In the opening verses Paul writes, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ who gave himself for our sins” (Gal. 1: 3, 4). In the concluding verses he exclaims, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world” (Gal. 6: 14). Paul wrote in another place, “I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). The gospel speaks of the death of the Lord Jesus Christ for our sins, by which we are saved. The Law has never saved. The Law has never rescued anyone from death and judgment. We are justified before God – by faith alone (Rom. 5: 1), taking hold of the Lord Jesus Christ, who became sin for us that we might partake of the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5: 21). Our forgiveness and our sonship are God’s undeserved gifts, freely given to all those who hope in Christ and not in themselves. The death of Christ has become the defining moment in the universe and should be such in our lives. Some years ago, one Saturday, I was informed that a member of my family might die that very day. Thanks to God she didn’t but it became a defining moment in her life. She did not and does not look on life the same way since. How much more should the death of Christ drastically change our view of life? By his death a new way of living has been made possible for us. We are no longer under the Law (Gal.5: 18). We are no longer prisoners of the Law (Gal. 3: 23 – 25). Christ has set us free (Gal. 5: 1). We have been released from the law so that we can serve God in a new and vibrant way (Rom. 7: 6).