Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Law and Grace; Galatians 3:26-4:11

Immigration is today's hot potato. Jeremy Clarkson, the presenter of Top Gear who has made a profession of being non-PC, recently made a crack that the Mexican Olympic team never wins medals because anyone who can run, jump or swim is already in the USA. The British Prime Minister, David Cameron, has declared that multiculturism is dead. Mihr Bose, recently the BBC sports editor and himself of Indian origin, has said that he can't understand why Bengalis should want to come to England if they don't adopt British culture. If they want to continue with Bengali culture, why not stay in Calcutta where it isn't so cold and wet?

On the other hand we are very aware that the color of one's skin used to determine how one was treated. I remember Bed and Breakfast hostelries with signs in their windows that said, "No pets, no coloureds, no Irish". Even though we have a female monarch, and have had a female Prime Minister, as well as female Presidents of the Royal College of Pathologists and the Royal College of Physicians, there is still a glass ceiling for women in business and we have never had a female leader of the Labour Party, that well known egalitarian organisation. Slavery was abolished in Britain and the US many years ago, but it persists in the Arab world and in many parts of Africa, while Jim Crowism continued in America until the time of Lyndon Johnson.

If anything, things were worse in Biblical times. The Jews prided themselves as being 'children of Abraham' and called the heathen nations 'swarms' or 'hordes' or even 'dogs'. It was not one-sided. The Romans looked down on the Jews. Aristotle called slaves 'animated implements' or a 'tool that breathes', while Josephus states that 'the woman, so says the law, is inferior in all things to man'.

So it is a radical idea that Paul espouses when he says in Galatians 3:28, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." Galatians 3:26.

Where does this unity come from? From Christ. "You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you were baptized (or immersed) into Christ."

This doesn't mean that we are all the same. In China, the cultural revolution under Mao had brain surgeons cleaning the operating theater floor and cleaners doing brain surgery. Yesterday, Lord Lang, a member of the House of Lords, declared that "Bus drivers, waitresses and other people in ‘unimportant’ jobs are not fit to sit in judgement on the business interests of former ministers". Now this sounds like arrogance and snobbery of the first order, and I am sure that this fellow is a thoroughly nasty man, but there is a nub of truth in what he said. Certain tasks require training and education and not everyone is capable of succeeding in every task. I would hate to see my performance on Dancing on Ice.

It is not our nature or genetic endowment, or even our behavior that makes us all one; it is the fact that we have been immersed in Christ. As Paul puts it we have 'clothed ourselves with Christ'. It is as though when God the Father looks at us we have as it were Harry Potter's invisibility cloak around us and on top of that the cloak of Christ, so that he looks at us and sees his Son.

Paul concludes this chapter by telling us that we are Abraham's seed and heir according to the promise. This is the consequence of being clothed in Christ. It is not just that we avoid Hell, escape the consequences of our sin. It is not just a 'Get out of jail free' card. We have become co-heirs with Christ. Did you know that we will judge angels? We will share in the glory that is his. Ephesians 1:13,14 tells us that we have already had the first installment of that glory now, with the gift of the Holy Spirit. He is the deposit with us of glory to come; the guarantor of glory.

I have preached on Galatians chapter 4 at Christmas time. "When the time had fully come, God sent his son, born of a woman." All very true, no doubt but wrenching it out of context. The first 7 verses of chapter 4 are an illustration of what has gone before. He takes up the story of a pedagogue, a slave in charge of the children of the family, who has absolute authority over them, even though one day, the heir would have authority over him -an animate implement - as Aristotle called him. The tutor-slave could whip the heir if he didn't learn his lessons. I suppose there have been future prime ministers going through the English Public Schools system who suffered bullying by prefects and house masters (read Tom Brown's Schooldays) but who later enacted laws to inflict even the death penalty on citizens.

Paul is making the point that when Israel was immature it had to be treated like a child, being subject to rules. I remember being caned at school. There were school rules and by the age of eleven I thought some of them were silly. A few of us deliberately disobeyed one of the rules, flagrantly doing so in front of the headmaster. For this we were punished. We were under the Law and had to take the consequences. When I graduated to senior school, that particular rule no longer applied. I was considered mature enough to make my own decisions.

In my Christmas sermon I talked about the 'fullness of time' referring to the pax Romana meaning that the spread of the Gospel was facilitated along straight Roman roads in the Lingua Franca of the time - Greek. But this is not what is meant at all. What it signifies is a time of maturity. The recourse to the Law's governance is over. What was it that made the difference? It was the coming of Christ.

God sent of his Son - he was divine. Born of a woman - he was human. Born under Law - how else could be fulfil the Law's demands? To redeem those under the Law - how else could he be our surrogate? That we might receive the full rights as sons. Now the telios - the completeness is achieved.

This does not mean we are now perfect. In the famous chapter on love, 1 Corinthians 13, Paul tells is that when perfection comes the imperfect disappears. The imperfect is with us still, I am afraid. The Warfield position is that miraculous gifts have ceased because we have Scripture and they date this 'perfection' from the confirmation of the whole canon of Scripture. I once held that position but I do so longer. Not that I have been a witness to miracles, nor do I speak in tongues or foresee the future, but it seems to me clear from Scripture that the perfection referred to is the new creation, the new heaven and earth when Christ returns. In the meantime the Kingdom has begun, we are regarded as adults, we have the deposit of the Holy Spirit, the New Covenant of Jeremiah 31:33 is in operation, we are no longer slaves but sons and heirs (v 7).

The Galatians had been slaves to pagan gods who by their nature were no gods. 'On Mount Olympus's towering tops, some Greeks and Romans picked some hops' was a mnemonic we learned in order to remember the order of the cranial nerves. Not much call for Mount Olympus, these days, but plenty of pagan gods to worship. Most commonly it is money, but sports stars, actors, pop-singers and 'celebrities' are all prominent. Fame, success, family, houses, cars, holidays; all by their nature no gods, yet worshiped as if they were. Can you identify a god that enslaves you?

But if you are a Christian you know God - or rather you are known by God. I think the most terrifying passage in the whole Bible is from Matthew 7.
"Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity."

But Paul tells us that as Christians we are known by God.

It is said that when the slaves in Jamaica were freed, the next morning they rose early and made their way to the sugar cane fields, for they knew no other way. Paul castigates the Galatians, "How is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles?" Martin Luther in illustrating this verse, turned to Aesop's Fables. The dog with a joint of meat in his jaws sees his reflection in the lake. He opens his mouth to grasp the reflected meat and in so doing drops the joint in the water. Aesop's point was the stupidity of greed; Luther's point was the stupidity of stupidity; why reach for a reflection when you have the real thing? By taking up the Law, the Galatians were snatching at shadows. Do we do the same?

Paul tells us in verse 11 that he feared for the Galatians. Let me ask you this question. You do not commit adultery. Is it because you fear the consequences of the Law or because you love the Lord? You do not steal. Many do and they are seldom caught. They say that only 3% of crimes are detected. You could definitely enhance your living standard with a little well tempered theft with very little chance of being caught. But you are a Christian and Christians don't steal. Why not? Is it because God's all seeing eye will spot your transgression and there will (literally) be Hell to pay? Or is it because you love the Lord and wish to please him.

When you were a child you used to obey your parents. Why was that? because if you didn't they would thrash you? Or shout at you? Or was it because you loved them and wished to please them?

No comments: