Wednesday, July 12, 2017

This week's lesson (July 8-14): the Unity of the Gospel

Peter deserves our thanks.

Few have done more for the Gentiles, after all.
  • It was Peter who baptized Cornelius.
  • It was Peter who backed Paul at the Council of Jerusalem.
  • It was Peter (along with James and John) who confirmed Paul's mission to the Gentiles.
  • And when Peter visited Paul's converts in Antioch, he was delighted to work with them. Worship with them. And even eat with them.
In short, Peter has consistently defended the right of Gentiles to be Christians, even though they are still Gentiles.

So why shouldn't he recognize the right of Jews to be Christians, even though they are still Jewish?

That's all these "men from James" were asking: nothing more than the right of Jewish Christians to practice their traditional (and God-given) way of life.

And if this caused some ill-feeling among the Gentiles . . .

Well, nothing is gained by blurring the distinction between God's chosen people and the world.

No, Jews are Jews and Gentiles are Gentiles -- even within the church.

And if Peter is willing to defend the things that make us different . . .

Then who among us would not do the same?

Sunday, July 02, 2017

This week's lesson (July 1-7): Paul's Authority & Gospel

 Detective: "Is there any other point to which you could wish to draw my attention?" 
Sherlock Holmes: "To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time." 
Detective: "The dog did nothing in the night-time." 
Sherlock Holmes: "That was the curious incident." 
-- Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Silver Blaze.
One of the most curious things about the Book of Galatians is something Paul doesn't say.

In most of his other letters, remember, Paul begins with some kind of compliment:
  • In Ephesians, he praises the church because it "loves all the saints."
  • In Philippians, he thanks the church for its "partnership in the gospel."
  • And even the church in Corinth -- a church riven by factionalism, and marked by sexual immorality -- is told that it "does not lack any spiritual gift."
Yes, Paul finds something good to say about every church . . . 
Except the one in Galatia.
And it's not as though the Galatians had abandoned all standards; if anything, just the opposite. No, they'd added rules. They'd stiffened requirements. They'd raised the bar for church membership -- raised it back to what it had been in the past.
"You can't be too careful," was their motto; "You can't be too strict," was their policy. "There's no such thing as too many rules" -- that was the way they did church.
But did Paul thank them for their devotion?
Did he commend them for their dedication?
Did he thank God that, whatever their faults, they're not as messed-up as the church in Corinth?
No.
And its just that lack of appreciation that is so odd.
If Paul could say something nice about the church in Corinth, after all, then you'd think he could say something nice about anyone!
But when it came to those careful, earnest, and dedicated believers in Galatia?
Paul doesn't say anything nice.
Given the choice between "too strict" and "too loose," in other words, Paul silence seems to suggest that "too strict" is worse.
Which is . . . curious.