There are many passages of Scripture that are difficult to preach from because of interpretation challenges. Then there are passages that are hard to preach from because of the emotions those texts bring. Our text from Sunday was one of those. The reason this text had so many emotions in it is because of the pastoral emotions that Paul mentions. As a pastor, I can relate (in a very small degree) to Paul’s anguish and bewilderment over the Galatians falling prey to the legalistic false teaching of the Jewish leaders. To contextualize it, there is no sorrow like watching those you love fall prey to lifestyles, sin, or teaching that enslave them. And the burden that I feel for the souls of people who call CLF their home is like nothing I can express. It’s not a burden in the sense that I am “responsible” for them coming to Christ or Christ being formed in them, but a burden that I “rightly divide the word of truth” so that they hear, see and experience the presence of the Risen Christ when we gather together or when I counsel them.
Knowing that this text had these emotions in them made me a tad nervous entering the pulpit because I never want to give you the feeling that “woe is me, my job is hard” or “please pray for me because I’m a pastor”. Just the opposite is true: I love my job! I have a sense of “calling” from God to do this and I am truly humbled by the work of God at our church. And that’s why, when I start preaching a text like this, it feels like those emotions just pour out. I am grateful that the Lord seemed to use those emotions yesterday to reveals Paul’s heartfelt appeal to the Galatians. However, it’s not a normal Sunday, when such emotions pours over my heart, like it did yesterday.
From the cutting room floor. Things I had to leave out:
Because this text was “pastoral” in nature, there are many things that Paul wrote, that I had to leave out because there just wasn’t enough time to cover it all. So here are a few of those tidbits:
- In vs. 9, Paul wrote: “But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?” Is there another text in the Bible that displays what it means to be a Christian, like this one? There’s belief: “you have come to know God” and there’s God’s sovereignty over that belief: “or rather to be known by God.” I love how Paul covers something that so many get riled up about: do we believe in Jesus or does God choose us? Paul’s answer is ‘yes’. Do we believe in Jesus or does God knows us beforehand? Paul’s answer is ‘yes’. And isn’t this a true definition of a Christian? We have come to know God, personally, intimately, through Jesus, but the best description is that we have come to known by God, as His children and family members. True on all parts.
- In vs. 13, Paul wrote: “You know it was because of a bodily ailment that I preached the gospel to you at first…” Notice that Paul wrote “because of a bodily ailment” that he preached the gospel to them. No one is exactly sure if this meant that Paul stopped in Galatia because of this ailment…was there a doctor in town? Was it so painful that he couldn’t continue his journeys? No one knows. But one thing we all know is that this ailment stopped him in Galatia for some reason and Paul saw that the reason was to preach the gospel to them. What a powerful example. It would be like taking a trip in the car to Los Angeles and having your car break down near Redding and needing to stop there for a few days. I’m not sure about you, but I know my heart well enough to know that I probably would be pretty bent out of shape and not quite ready to look for gospel opportunities. Not Paul. He saw everything as bringing gospel opportunities. A great example in our world is what happened last week in Douglas County with the 2019 snowpocalypse. Power out, everywhere…trees down, everywhere…roads blocked…cell service down…all, 1st-world problems…how did your heart do during that week and were you looking for gospel opportunities? Paul never saw his ailment as slowing down the work of the gospel and we shouldn’t either. What a challenge.
- There’s an overriding theme/challenge in Galatians that we’re eventually going to get to, but it’s starting to come clear as we turn the pages of the book. And here’s what it is: where does obedience to God fit in the Christian life? And I say that because, aren’t we supposed to keep certain days, like a Sabbath Day? Aren’t we supposed to do certain things: pray, read our Bibles, share our faith, etc.? Well, the answer is ‘yes’ we are, but not to make ourselves right with God or for the purpose of gaining God’s forgiveness. We are to obey because we’re forgiven, not so that we can be forgiven. And the attitude or reason for our obedience is critical because if we get this wrong, we will obey out of duty rather than our of devotion and we’ll be trying to do religious rules rather than having a relationship with the Risen Christ. The beauty of the gospel is that we are united with Christ so that we can have a relationship with God. And that relationship is one of devotion, love, and joy. Philip Ryken wrote this,
- “If the Galatians wanted to practice the forms of outward religion, they might as well read their horoscopes or practice some other form of paganism. In their legalism, they were reverting to the very kind of religion they had rejected when they were converted to Christ. They had their “lucky days” when they were pagans, too. They followed astronomical signs and celebrated the emperor’s birthday. But relapsing into such religion was a sign of profound spiritual ignorance. Any religion that is based on observing special days is primitive because it reduces a relationship to a ritual. It makes following God a matter of doing one’s duty rather than receiving God’s grace. This is the potential danger with religiously observing the liturgical calendar the way some churches do. It is also a warning sign that many Americans are really pagans, for our national spirituality focuses on major holidays rather than on living for Christ every day. There are still far too many people who think that all they have to do for God is to go to church at Christmas and Easter. But there is an eternity of difference between the optional observance of such a day and making it mandatory as a means of justification. The Galatians needed to be reminded that God’s grace comes free. Once we know the freedom of that grace, we become the true children of God, and we can never go back to spiritual slavery.” (Italics mine)
Quotes that I marked but didn’t use:
- “Ministers should not be judged by their ability, appearance, personality, popularity, or any of the other standards ordinarily used to judge them. Ministers should be evaluated primarily by their faithfulness to the Word of God. If they are faithful, then to welcome their message is to welcome Christ himself. “Happy is that Christian society,” wrote the Scotsman John Brown, “when the minister loves his people, and the people love their minister ‘for the truth’s sake.’” Philip Ryken
- “This desire is fully in keeping with what the apostle says in verse 12: “Brothers, I entreat you, become as I am, for I also have become as you are” (Gal. 4:12). This is Paul’s mission statement, a longer version of which appears in 1 Corinthians 9: “To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law.… I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some” (1 Cor. 9:20–22). Paul became like others so that others could come to know Christ. To use the popular term for it, he knew how to contextualize the gospel. He knew how to become so integrated into the life of a community that he could explain the gospel in words that people could actually understand. Without compromising the gospel, we should become as much like the people we are trying to reach as we possibly can. Our real goal is to make people become like us (insofar as we are like Christ), but first we have to become like them.” Philip Ryken
- “Longenecker has put it, “For Paul … whatever leads one away from sole reliance on Christ, whether based on good intentions or depraved desires, is sub-Christian and therefore to be condemned.” Timothy George
- “However, for Paul, just as circumcision was neither good nor evil in itself, so too the observance of special feast days and holy seasons was neither mandatory nor inherently blameworthy. Obviously Paul was concerned that the Galatian believers would be drawn into a religious system where adherence to certain cyclical celebrations was regarded as obtaining or maintaining a favorable standing with God.” Timothy George
- “Luther observed, “These words breathe Paul’s own tears.” He also teaches by his example that pastors and bishops should take a fatherly and motherly attitude, not toward the ravenous wolves (Matt 7:15) but toward the miserable, misled, and erring sheep, patiently bearing their weakness and fall and handling them with the utmost gentleness.”
- “This entire passage has a great deal to say about ministerial ethics and the proper relationship between pastor and people. On one level it is a classic case of “sheep stealing.” The Judaizers wormed their way into the congregations of Galatia by criticizing and attacking the apostle Paul. They tore him down in order to build themselves up. Their way of doing ministry was as perverted as their doctrine was corrupt. False teachers today, no less than in apostolic times, frequently prey on the evangelical labors of others, bewitching God’s people and leading many astray.” Timothy George
A couple of thoughts from this past week:
- I am deeply grateful for the service and work of our church to care for each other and for those around them during the winter storm that blew through our county. As Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, “We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Thess. 1:2-3, ESV). “Work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ”…describes you right now and I’m humbled to be a part of it.
- Not sure about everyone else, but it was good to have cell service down for a while…it was good to have all my kids huddled in the living room and have to work together to get things like water, wood, food ready.
- And, I’m not sure how many did a dance like we did when we came home Sunday night and we had power at our house! When our kids came in, we sang, jumped and danced around. So fun.
- Definitely a storm to remember in Douglas County and many are not out of the dangers of it yet, so let’s be praying and looking for opportunities to serve for the glory of the Risen Christ!
To watch or listen to the sermon described in this post, please click here.