Wednesday, May 25, 2011

It Makes No Difference to Me (Gal 2:1-10)

Consistent ambivalence is a trait that I have practiced many days. It is easy to say "whatever", "it doesn't matter", or "it makes no difference to me". Most of the time this ambivalence is toward things truly not of great importance (e.g. dinner choices, 'who goes first'). Reading Paul's attitude in this passage shows me times when I should practice this more and differently!

As I posted earlier, Paul displays a divine example of not being a man-pleaser but a God-pleaser. His life had been turn 180 degrees from serving his selfish ambition of being better than others in his legalistic subculture to serving the God who had revealed the truth to him by a visual and personal meeting with Christ.

As a result, he no longer cared so much of what other "important" people thought of his message and lifestyle. He cared primarily of what God said to him and commanded of him. However, he now recounts going to Jerusalem now after 14 years of ministry to confer with Jerusalem Church leaders - John, James, and Peter.

At first glance, I was very confused on how I am to consider my fellow man and Christian in relation to my faith and practice. By God's command, Paul doesn't seek to be commended and affirmed by other men to preach the gospel. But now, by God's command, Paul seeks affirmation of his work in the gospel.

Was he having a mid-life crisis and pit of unbelief? No, but a God motivated and commanded caution from pride and self-deception. The same God who had gloriously "revealed" himself to him and commanded him to preach the gospel now commanded him "by revelation" to make sure he wasn't "running in vain". It was another submission to trust in God.

God used Paul as an example to not be the man-pleaser who looked for everyone's applause at his work in the Gospel. He was not making himself known or popular "to the churches of Judea" with the fact of his new message. He was not using the gospel or christianity as a new place to advance himself and praise himself. Instead, he humbly sought his churches nurturing and appointing (as was noted in a previous post and Acts 13:1-3) and circumspect evaluation of other leaders. God revealed to Paul his weakness and fallibility; he needed others to minister to him (like Paul desires of the Romans and the Philippians in other letters).

In other words, by God's grace, Paul avoids the pitfalls of pride from seeking man's praise and pride from not seeking fellow Christian's wise counsel.

It makes no difference to Paul what men claim to be or what men say of them. He is only concerned with the truthful spread of the Gospel and unity with those who are likewise. Everything else between men, makes little difference.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Am I in the place of God?

I stumbled upon some beautiful and magnificent words from Joseph at the end of the book of Genesis.

The question posed in my title is from Genesis 50:19. Joseph, his 10 older brothers, and extended family have just returned from a long and very emotional burial/memorial of their father Jacob. As anyone who has lost a important family member knows, these can often be very stressful times--questions over inheritance, questions over guilt and vindication of past wrongs, and many other uncertainties arise. It's very messy.

If you are familiar with the story of Joseph (if not it, is a wonderful read), Joseph is now second in command of the most powerful nation on earth, at that time, Egypt. He got there by numerous "misfortunes"; worst of all was the hateful betrayal of his brothers who sold him into slavery and pretended to their father that he had been eaten by wild beasts. Talk about drama! This is far worse than betrayal's my coworkers dwell upon when watching the Murray and Springer shows! It's just evil.

And his brother's know it! They come groveling before their younger brother, begging for forgiveness in the name of their dead father.

But now at the time of opportunity to have revenge, Joseph speaks simple but profound view of his life and his God. ""Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones." Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.(Gen 50:19-21)"

Most of the world would see such evil and encourage Joseph to some kind of retribution against his brothers. At least hold a grudge. The best counselors of the world may advise Joseph to work through his pain and eventually come to the conclusion that he is better then them and rose above his circumstances. His brothers would be either booed with great disdain or told they should learn to forgive themselves.

But Joseph sees himself humbly and takes his horrible circumstances as a planned gift from God. How could he not freely forgive? Although he is second in command over the known world, he is not God. How could he see himself above his circumstances or bitter to them? God, in absolute sovereign control, designed the brothers to wickedly betray him and sell him as a slave. It was not God's delight to have them sin against him but to bring out good by it--tremendous good! Thousands, perhaps millions, of people were saved from the destructive famine to come! His own family was preserved alive. How could he not humbly submit to this good God who allowed his brother's evil desires to bring about this salvation?

The problem of pain and suffering, evil and circumstance is met with a simple response in the form of Joseph's question: Am I God?

Who can argue with his humble question? It is beautiful theology...beautiful logic...beautiful truth.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Exegesis and Meditations on Gal 1:11-24

Finally getting back to Galatians and Paul's defense of the Gospel. It seems fitting, though it was never my plan to delay this exposition so long, that I should return to the subject after completing Church History 2 at the Southern Seminary. Paul's defense and focus on the Gospel is key in today's age of uncertainty about what it means to be a "Christian", what the Gospel is truly, and those issues in relation to "unity" among "Christians" who differ.

As I already explored earlier in Galatians, Paul is precisely direct about calling out the Galatian believers to take account for their treacherous attitude to the original and genuine Gospel message. These brothers were in danger of defecting to an enemy side and no longer holding to the message of truth and grace Paul Chiasticly expresses in his greeting (v.1-5). They would be joining ranks with those that Paul calls "cursed"--destined for destruction. In light of a plain and undiluted understanding of these proclamations of Paul, it is astonishing to hear prominent preachers speak of all people being accepted by "god" no matter what they believe, teach, or do in this life. But Paul clearly teaches what truth, what "gospel", you believe is very relevant.

Paul still being confident that these are his brothers, those whom Christ "gave deliver [them] from the present evil age" and false doctrines, gets to the heart of the matter. Who are you trully trying to please?

Paul puts himself forth as divinely crafted contrast to the false teachers who only want to "trouble you" and as he later says "desire to...boast in your flesh". He declares something very bold and, when taken as personal challenge, very terrifying. "If I were trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ!"

He reminds them that the gospel he is preaching was not his original message but was from a "revelation of Jesus Christ". His first message was one from his culture and tradition--Judaism. His life was passionately seeking to advance beyond his contemporaries. He was in a violent pursuit to please men and suppress the truth. Almost 100% of the time a man pleasing message and goals comes from tradition and worldly culture. Paul exemplified this problem.

But God had a greater plan for this desperately wicked man-pleaser; he gloriously revealed the risen Jesus Christ to him. He was the last one to see Him and the only biblically recorded man to see him after His ascension. He was charged with a message straight from God. His former conduct was to go back and check with Elders, dead traditions of Fathers. But now he trusted whole-heartedly in revelation of Christ and committed himself to it just as passionately. He dealt with the rejection, disbelief, persecution that came for teaching this truth and did not even consult with others for three years.

Not that he was a brazenly arrogant in his proclamation of this message. These first three years were spent in fellowship with the Lord and His Church; he was not a cavalier man but had a time of growth and learning--shaping. In fact, he did not began his "official" Church planting and missionary work until after visiting church leaders in Jerusalem and being identified by his local church in Antioch as some preaching the true revelation of Christ.

You may ask how is this later behavior different from his life as a zealous Jewish leader? The difference is the purpose, the focus. Is former goal was to be better then all the rest. His new goal was to only be known as the one for whom "they glorified God." He no longer sought self-praise but God praise. Thus he demonstrates, by God's amazing power and grace in him, a contrast with false teaching.

False teaching will always have at it's core selfishness, humanistic idolatry, and arrogance. All three of these are as insidious as false truth itself. They are black-holes that look like bright stars. They are theving liars cloaked as generous wise-men. How then do you see through it? Paul has already given the first pillar of foundation which is often long forgotten in our rationalistic and post-rationalism age: Revelation. But more on that later.