5-21-17 Galatians Sermon Series “Heirs of the Kin-dom of God”
So how many of you, as children, were cared for at times by babysitters? Maybe it was an older sibling or a neighbor. Maybe it was only an occasional thing or perhaps a regular occurrence. After my father died my younger sister and I were often under the care of any one of a number of sitters when Mom had to work.
And that was often our older sister until she got to high school and got a job of her own, then our sitters varied. We had various after school sitters over the year, often older women who my mom either knew or found, but sometimes they were teenage girls, daughters of family friends, who would watch us. And I know you’re going to find this hard to believe, but I was not always the easiest kid to babysit! I know it’s completely out of character for me now, but as a youngster I could be a bit of a trouble-maker. For example, we had one regular sitter named Betty Dahlem, whose mother worked with Mom at a local factory. Betty would often watch us after school or during the summers.
Now, not to be unkind here, but Betty wasn’t always the quickest to learn from an experience, even when it was repeated. There were places I liked to go to as a kid to play, like the creek at the end of our block, where she wouldn’t let me go, I assume because Mom had told her that I couldn’t. So instead of arguing about it, or whining or crying to get my way, I would literally rope Betty into playing a game of Cowboys and Indians. And invariably, regardless of which part I played or which role she had, I would tie her to the stake (in this case a chair), and when I was sure she couldn’t easily get free, I’d turn the TV on to her favorite soap opera and I’d take off to go play at the creek with my friends. And when I’d come home she’d be upset with me, but as far as I know she never told my mom because I never heard about it, and this played out time and again.
Depending on the situation, a babysitter’s role is to take care of, protect, or otherwise keep out of trouble, those for whom they are responsible. Those are usually minor children who, at least in my case, clearly couldn’t (or shouldn’t) be trusted to take care of themselves until they reach what we call the age of majority. In this week’s reading, expanding on what we looked at last week, Paul suggests that the role of the Law is not unlike that of a babysitter, but rather than a babysitter as we know it, he compares it to what was then known as a pedagogue.
The pedagogue (literally in Greek, "child-guide") in the Greco-Roman culture of Galatia would have been, as I shared last week, a male household staff person (whether slave or free) who was responsible for the education and protection of younger male children.
He would have accompanied them to school and public events, and perhaps acted as tutor for both schoolwork and etiquette, until the children reached young adulthood, at which point they would be initiated and expected to behave fully as adults in their world.
So it is, Paul suggests, with the law and the faith of Christ. Paul isn't making this argument simply about the people in Galatia, but rather about Judaism and the whole world. The role of the law for Jews especially, but potentially for anyone who came under its guidance, was to "raise you right," - like the pedagogue - to form in you right practices and behaviors. But that's as far, Paul says, that either the pedagogue (or the Law, he suggests) could ever have taken anyone. It might be helpful up to the point of initiation into the adult world, but after that, once recognized as an adult, the pedagogue had no further authoritative role to play.
In last week's text, Paul focused on the distinction between what the law could do (identify sinful practices and provide guidance for a deepening relationship with God), what it could not do (reconcile or justify anyone), and what, by contrast, the faith of Jesus Christ offers to all who are in Christ (justification and life).
And the final verses from last week leading into this week read,
25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a custodian. 26 You are all God’s children through faith in Christ Jesus.
27 All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 Now if you belong to Christ, then indeed you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to the promise.
So, writing to Gentile believers who have been told by outside Jewish-Christian missionaries that they need to adopt circumcision and law observance in order to be fully included in God's people, Paul responds with a forceful scriptural argument. In chapter 3, Paul argues that God's promise to Abraham came earlier, so takes priority over the law. The law served its purpose, serving a custodial/pedagogue function with the authority to identify and restrain sin, but lacking the power to liberate us from sin (3:21-22). The law served as our custodian until Christ came (3:23-24). But now in Christ we are set free from the law. This is true for Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female alike; we are all one in Christ and heirs to God's promises (3:27-29).
So now in chapter 4, Paul expands on what it means to be an heir. While heirs are still minors, they’re "no better than slaves,” he says, because they and the property they’ll inherit remain under the control of guardians and trustees "until the date set by the father" (4:1-2). "So with us," Paul continues, "while we were minors, we were enslaved to this world’s systems.” (4:3). And chief among those world systems that enslave us, offers Paul, is legalism.
Legalism is the idea that we’re saved by following rules and the laws, and that those who don’t are condemned. So what rules and laws are we talking about here?
Is Paul throwing out the Ten Commandments? No, not hardly. But consider for a moment, what Jesus said about the Law. When asked what was the greatest commandment, he replied that the greatest is to “love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength,” and a second, he said, is like it, “love your neighbor as yourself.” Now, we may or may not be able to recite in order each of the Ten Commandments as given by Moses, but even at that, we recognize that these two given by Jesus are not specified among the ten. So what gives?
Well, if we look closely we see that the Ten Commandments can be broken into two groups; the first four dealing with our relationship with God while the last six are about our relationship with one another. That is, they deal exclusively with how we love God and how we love our neighbor. So, Jesus wasn’t dismissing or editing the Ten Commandments, he was distilling them down to their core, their essence, in two easy to remember commandments.
That said, what Jesus referred to when he said that he had come to “fulfill” the Law, that is to bring it to completion, was the assortment of 613 laws that had spun out of those original ten; 613 laws, most commonly known as the “holiness code” and found primarily in Leviticus and Deuteronomy, that could not all be followed at the same time because following some meant violating others. That’s what is meant by the burden, the hardship, or the curse imposed by the Law, according to both Jesus and Paul, that the Pharisees accused Jesus of breaking and that the Jewish-Christian missionaries demanded that the Galatians must comply with as well. In the case of the Galatians specifically, laws requiring circumcision of males.
But “the Law” was the enemy of grace in the New Testament, and it was Paul’s target in the letter to the Galatians. Paul's gospel of grace, received directly from Jesus Christ, proclaimed that everything necessary for our salvation had already been done by Jesus, and that all we have to do is to accept it by faith as trust, or, as Borg and Crossan define faith, “by making a total commitment” to Jesus. For many, though, then and now, the offer of grace seems too risky. They want something more tangible, something to seemingly control with their own hands, so they add to, or cling to, some legalistic requirements. This is the kind of thing we see happening in the non-Pauline and pseudo-Pauline letters as well that seek to cling to legalism at the expense of grace. But when anything is added to faith, the result is not grace, but only more legalism.
Legalism has returned in our day with a vengeance.
We need look no further than when a person of faith seeks to judge the beliefs, practices, or behavior of another by citing what they refer to as biblical, Old Testament, or God’s Law.
And often when citing that law, they conveniently forget a couple things: First, that they themselves treat the same law as a buffet from which they, too, pick and choose what to follow and what to ignore. And second, Jesus declared plainly that he had come to fulfill the Law, that is to bring to conclusion, the role of Torah Law. And Paul tells us that the end of the Law comes in grace by faith in Jesus Christ.Despite these teachings by both Jesus and Paul, though, legalistic requirements about how to be saved, about who can and cannot be married, ordained, adopt children, and other things are being suggested, even demanded by many legalistic Christians.
As I was returning from lunch one day a couple of weeks ago, one of the churches I drove past had on their sign the question, “will you be saved before it’s too late?” With all due respect, I think they’re asking the wrong question. If we take seriously what Paul teaches us about God’s grace, then the sign should more properly read, “will you realize you’ve already been saved before it’s too late?” Too late for what? Too late to live your life - here and now - in the joy, peace, hope, and love of knowing that God’s grace has already embraced you…and not worrying about whether you’ve adhered to every jot and tittle of the Law that Jesus has already replaced with his commandments: love God and love one another. If our only way of thinking about or understanding salvation has to do with the afterlife, a concept by the way, that didn’t even exist when the Law was created, then we’re missing out on the blessing God offers to us in this life.
Understanding the biblical concept of grace will help us move beyond legalism and our tendency as humans to always try to divide ourselves into “us” and “them,” or as I heard it phrased on the radio not long ago, our tendency to “other one another.” Paul says that the redemption provided by Jesus stands in contrast to the bondage experienced under the law. Redemption, or to redeem, in this context, means "to purchase a slave with a view to his freedom." The law provided not freedom but bondage. What the law couldn't do, God did in Jesus Christ.
And Paul goes on to say that we are heirs, along
with Christ, of God’s loving and freedom-giving grace. The word heir refers to "a person who will receive an inheritance." And we understand that an inheritance is not earned or necessarily deserved. It’s a gift to be received, to be handed down. Any benefits received through the law are determined solely by our ability to keep or maintain the law; the benefits of grace, on the other hand, are determined by God's abundance.
So how do we become heirs of God? Paul explains that through Jesus Christ, we’ve been adopted into God's forever family. This adoption is not determined by our merit, but is a gift of grace, given by the hands of God.
And Paul reminds the Galatians that formerly, when they did not know God, they "were enslaved to beings or systems that by nature are not gods.”
He then pleads: "Now, however, that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the worldly systems?
How can you want to be enslaved by them again?"
And Paul makes the astonishing claim that for the Galatians to adopt the Jewish law is the equivalent of returning to their former pagan practices.
Being "imprisoned and guarded under the law,” or being like minors, means being "no better than slaves" (4:1). It’s the same as being "enslaved to the systems the world" (4:3). But there’s no need for that, because the "date set by the father” for the heirs to receive the inheritance has arrived in Jesus Christ!
And he says, ”But when the fullness of time had come" (4:4) -- at the end of one age and the beginning of another, at the time God deemed just right -- "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" (4:4-5).
The coming of God’s Son ends the reign of the law as our babysitter and inaugurates a new age. The Son is "born of a woman," fully human, and "born under the law." That last phrase rather than emphasizing Jesus' Jewish lineage, considered in context seems to identify him with all of humanity. Paul suggests that all are born under the law in one form or another -- whether the law of Moses or the law of the “world systems.”
Jesus is born under the law in order to redeem us who are under the law (cf. 3:13), "so that we might receive adoption as God’s children."
And here Paul shifts metaphors, from a child growing
to maturity and receiving the inheritance at the time set by the father, to a child being adopted. Under Roman law, adopted children had the same legal status and inheritance rights as biological children. It’s important to recognize that Paul doesn’t identify Jews with biological children and Gentiles with adopted children. Rather, he suggests that we’re all adopted children. None of us have any prior claim on God as parent. Our adoption as God's children is pure gift, pure grace. Jesus alone is Son of God from birth, but he shares his kinship and inheritance with all.
Paul continues: "And because you are children, God sent has sent the Spirit of the Son into our hearts. (4:6). The Spirit links us with God's Son as fellow children of God, and enables us to call upon God with the same intimate language that Jesus used.
(Mk 14:36; cf. Rom 8:15-17)
So our adoption as God's children means that there is absolutely no reason to return to a life of slavery under the Law. We are children of God and full heirs with Christ to all that God has promised. (4:7; cf. 3:18, 29).
And I want you to understand the difference it makes in daily life to know that we are children of God purely by God's grace and not by our adherence to the law, whatever form that law may take. Don't go back to that life of slavery, Paul tells us. The fullness of time has come! God redeems us from being under the law, so that we might receive adoption as God's children. God's gift to us will not be revoked, regardless of whether, or how well, we live up to our own expectations or the expectations of others. We do have a fresh start -- not by our own will power, but by the gracious initiative of God in sending God’s Son, claiming us as God's children, and sending the Spirit into our hearts. Thus, as Paul makes the argument here, the law was always pointing toward but awaiting its fulfillment in Christ. So submitting again to the law is the same as never being initiated into or achieving "real adulthood" in God. Submitting to the Law, he suggests, is not unlike denying Christ.
It is the faith in, the trust in, the total commitment to Christ that represents "real maturity" or "real adulthood" in God. Initiation into Christ through baptism is where we take on his faith (and so his practices and teaching). And by the power of the Spirit, we’re empowered to begin to live them out, which puts us into a place and way of being spiritually mature with God where the law can no longer lay claim to us. It is Christ himself, to whom we are joined and whom we put on, who lays claim to us now. This is a pure gift given by God; we cannot earn or deserve it. We can only give thanks and share this gift with others.
To think about this idea in a more practical way, Brian Harbour tells the story that at the turn of the last century, a young man named Billy accompanied his dad into town on Saturday to pick up the necessary supplies at the dry goods store. He stood patiently at the door as his father gathered the supplies. As his dad paid the bill, the store owner said to Billy, "Son, I ‘m impressed with your patience while your dad did the shopping.
As a reward, why don't you reach your hand into this candy jar and get a handful of candy." Billy didn't move. After a minute, the proprietor reached his hand into the jar and gave Billy more candy than he could hold in both hands. As they boarded the wagon to head back home, Billy's father expressed surprise at his son's hesitancy. "I've never known you to be bashful," the father said. Billy explained, "I wasn't being bashful, Dad. I just knew that his hands were bigger than my hands!"
When we follow the pathway of legalism, we have only what we can hold in our own hands. By contrast, when we follow Jesus’ Way of grace, we receive what God can hold in God’s hands. And God's hands are so much bigger than ours!
So may you open both your hands and your hearts, that you might live by grace and receive the inheritance of grace that has been given to you and all God’s children. Amen.