It isn’t nice
Galatians part 8
Have you ever been told off because what you have said in church isn’t nice? It seems that any language that isn’t nice should not be said, especially if we sound angry. Bear this in mind as we look at what Paul says next in Galatians:
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified[a] by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.
You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? 8 This persuasion is not from him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view than mine, and the one who is troubling you will bear the penalty, whoever he is. But if I, brothers,[b] still preach[c] circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offence of the cross has been removed. I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves! Galatians 5:1-12
These are not the words of someone being nice.
Bear with me with a little thought experiment. Imagine that those who are opposing Paul and demanding that the early Gentile converts to Christianity keep the Jewish law are still in the congregation. Or maybe they have returned to Jerusalem. Paul didn’t name them, Paul may not have known who they were, but that does not matter. The Galatians would have known who they were and in any case Paul is being passive-aggressive here. Paul is not being nice.
To those who have given in to those who said you have to obey Jewish Law, with its most obvious sign, circumcision, it would not be easy hearing these words in church. Paul’s letters were designed to be read in church in their entirety. Paul, in this rant, is having a go. Especially to those who are in the Jewish law group. A passive-aggressive rant is not comfortable even to hose it is not directed at. To those it is aimed at is is doubly uncomfortable. Especially where Paul’s rant passes from being passive to being just straight down the line aggressive. He is saying, “You are wanting Christians to obey the law, including circumcision? Go and castrate yourselves.”
This is not only not nice, this is plain nasty.
It isn’t a one off either. Galatians is the first letter to the churches we have from Paul. In one off the last he says this: “ Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” Philippians 3:8
Count all things as rubbish? The word translated rubbish, skúbala, is not a polite word. The King James Bible translates skúbala as dung, but even that is being polite.
What Paul is saying is that to live as a Christian as it it were a set of rules, and I suspect he would be just as against modern rules that must be obeyed as he was against Jewish law, is shit. I made him very angry. Angry enough to tell people to castrate themselves or to swear in a pastoral letter.
Sometimes it is necessary to shock people into seeing what the issues actually are.
For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word:“You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another. Galatians 5:13-15
It is worth remembering that these words, are the words of an angry man.
I slit the passage there for a reason. Both quoted passages start with freedom. We have been set free by what Jesus achieved by dying and being raised from the dead. We, as Christians, are free. If anyone tries to make our religion a set of rules they are taking away our freedom. For laws, as Paul has said earlier in the letter, do not free us, they enslave us to a set of rules. Paul is mixing his three sets of contrasts here:
- Grace against law
- Spirit against flesh,
- Freedom against slavery
Freedom against flesh is not one of the actual contrasts of the letter, though it nicely sets up the next part of the letter, You can understand how someone who is angry can get things across. Even so, it is not really a mistake, as the three contrasts are different ways of looking at the same thing. Galatians only really has two themes. These contrasts and what it means to be church. even these two threads get twisted together.
So before the big contrasting the flesh and spirit bit which is next there are a few words about how to apply this to being the church. Being Christians is about love. The same amount of love for all, the amount is the same as you show for yourself. You are not being loving if you treat people differently because of their gender or background, or any of the many other things people have invented to divide themselves from others. “But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another” means that if we attack other people, if we treat others as being less than someone else, if we treat others as being less important than ourselves, then it is us that ends up getting hurt.
Living by the law divides people. Living by the law separates people. It separates us from each other and quarentines us from the world, the people we are meant to be reaching.
I am hoping for a time when it can again be said that a sign of being