Galatians 3:23–29 (NRSV)
23 Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. 24 Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. 27 As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 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. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.
This week has been one with a great deal of stress. With constant news reports of hate filled crimes filling the air waves along with the accusations and questions as to what the Christian stance really is. It has been one of those weeks where I personally would like to withdraw to an isolated place to just get away and pray than have another conversation. It is weeks like this where those divisions that we spoke about last week seem more pronounced. But the questions that are asked are asked for a reason. People want to know if there is something real to our faith. Is our faith something to live for or is it just a system seeking to control?
The very fact that people are asking question should let us know that the culture itself is not totally turned against Christ. They are asking questions, they are giving us an opportunity to interact with them and bear witness to the hope that we have. How we respond reveals a great deal about where our faith actually resides.
The Galatian church was one that was in the midst of a divide. Lines were being drawn and people were forced to choose a side. On one hand was those that said that the Gentiles would need to become Jewish to enter the Kingdom. The other camp focused on something else.
If we read through the whole of this letter it is quite easy to recognize what side Paul defends. The book or the Epistle to the Galatians is Paul’s defense. It is written as a defense with structured arguments based directly against the teachings of missionaries that visited the area after him. It is important to recognize that even though Paul passionately opposes the views of others he argues in such a way to encourage and build the church instead of tearing them down.
The passage last week, Paul argues that our faith is not in a system but a person, and in some ways it is not even our faith that provides the hope but the faith of the one that provides the hope for us. When he made this argument, he stated that his conclusions were also the same fundamental conclusions of those leaders at the center of the newly emerging church. Yet there still remained divisiveness within.
We cannot separate the fact that the Church is an assembly that grew out of the long history and heritage of the Jewish people. From the beginning of recorded history God chose one group or nation of people to make his revelation through. This group, though it holds influence, was never what kingdoms of men would call a super power. They remained a small nation that controlled the land linking the cultural empires. Asia, Africa, and Europe all link together along this strip of land we know as Israel. It was the center of the world and in many ways remains the center. God did not chose them because they were great but because they were common. He chose them because their father chose to follow even when it did not make sense. Israel though was not the only group loved by God. If we are to believe scripture then we would have to agree that all people and nations descended from a common source. Beginning with Adam and Eve and then through the children of Noah. All of humanity is God’s, but God chose to provide his revelation through one group, one tribe, and one family within that tribe.
Our faith is not becoming something new or different but it is a returning to what we were intended to be. This is found throughout scripture, even though God chose one group this group was to exist not in itself but for the glorification of all nations. Israel exists so that God can redeem all of mankind through them, mainly through Jesus.
Our heritage comes through this one group but where does that leave us? The argument is if we, or those that were born outside of this group, would have to abandon our cultural identity and become Jewish, would those of us that were born among the “sinners” would have to follow the laws that were given to Moses. Paul then describes what the Law really is. Paul says, “Now before faith came…” Let us just stop there for a moment and let those words saturate our minds. Before faith came. Is he saying that those that came before Christ lacked faith? No, if we were to read the verses prior to this section we would see that Paul spoke a great deal about the faith that Abraham had in God. When Paul is speaking about faith he is speaking not about a system of belief but a person of belief, or the source. Last week I stated that the phase that was translated “Faith in Jesus” could also be translated as “Faith of Jesus” this is similar. When Paul speaks of faith he is saying that Jesus is faith, He is the source and the embodiment of all faith.
“Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed.” In ancient cultures there was a particular practice that employed people to guard children. This person was different from that of a nanny, they were quite literally there to keep the children in line and to ensure they safely while they traveled from one point to the next, usually between their home and school. This particular person was the protector, not the teacher. The children were held under this person’s authority until they reached a certain age. They were like a probation officer, ensuring that nothing happened to the children and in many cases making sure the children did not bring embarrassment to the family.
Paul is saying that we were imprisoned by the law that the law was like this person that controlled the children like a jailor, keeping them out of trouble until the appointed time where maturity took over. In essence the Law was there to make sure that this one group would remain for the revelation of Christ. The law was set up to ensure that this one group would survive culturally and spiritually till the advent of Jesus.
If we were to look at the law, 613 laws about diet, architecture, interpersonal relationships and more. Laws about how to treat the people around you, how to trim our hair and clothing we could wear. The law is cold and impersonal. To put our faith in the Law is to remain a prisoner in our own family.
This cold impersonal lifestyle of the law was not the life God created us to live. God created us to be caretakers of his creation, and to walk with Him. Our faith tradition derived its name from a passage of scripture in John 15 that says. “I do not call you servants any longer because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I call you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.” We were created to be friends of God. We were created to interact and have intimacy with God, to know what he is doing and to join him in that activity. Adam knew God in the garden, he knew that God wanted him to tend the garden and to name the animals. He knew that God wanted and would walk with him in the evenings. The law did not exist in the garden. The only rule was to not eat of a particular tree, because that tree would give mankind knowledge of good and evil, and that knowledge would separate us from God to such a degree that we would lose the breath of life. From that moment on because we could not be trusted, the law began to emerge.
Without the law mankind would have slowly killed themselves off. Waring against one another till chaos would have ruled. The law strictly held one group apart, throughout history so that Faith could come. Once faith came things began to change. Through Jesus the relationship with God was reconciled. Through Jesus we were able to return to the place we were created to be. Sin entered through Adam and through Jesus the wages of sin were paid. In Christ we are restored.
We were once divided but Faith came and united us again. When we cloth ourselves in Christ, when we die to ourselves and Christ lives through us, the things that once divided no longer matter. Because we are restored in Christ. We are not Jews or Gentiles only Christ. We are not slave or freemen only Christ. In Christ there cannot be divisions, only him the true faith.
Those things that we divide over do not matter in Christ. God could care less if you are an American or Mexican. He could care less if you are a democrat or republican or something in between or beyond. He does not care if you are retired or active in a career. He does not even care what gender you are because in Christ there is no difference because in Christ we are one. Consider that, let is seep into your very being. The things that we divide over have absolutely nothing to do with Christ, because Christ is not divided. Those are all aspects of the kingdoms of mankind, and have no place in the Church.
Yet we have division. What does that tell us about our faith? If we cannot see the humanity and that of God in those unlike us where is our faith? Our faith is on the things of man instead of the things of God. We are imprisoned and held captive. We are not free to be who Christ created us to be. This is what really saddens me. This is why this past week has been stressful to me. Because all around me I hear divisiveness and then am asked where is God in it all?
God is all around us if we take the time to look. He is in the friendships that we have, he is in the joy of shared experiences. He is in the meal shared with another. He is in the tears. He is in the love we have for our children and the laughter following a good joke. Where is God? Slow down, look and listen.
Before faith came we were imprisoned, after faith came we were undivided. In Christ there is no Jew or Greek, no slave or free, and no male and female. There is only Christ the true vine and his branches. There is only one Church with Christ as the head and us as its members. There is only a friendship or captivity. But the captivity is not of our own choosing. We can live in the bondage of a world ruled by the kingdoms of mankind at constant war with themselves or we can live free in Christ. This week I saw mankind ripping itself apart, I also saw children bringing it back together which gives me hope.
As we enter into this time of open worship and communion as Friends consider the words that Paul spoke to us through his letter to the Galatians. Consider what in your life divides and what unites. Which is more important?