Sunday, March 19, 2017

Milestones – 6:11-18

I got to thinking this week about one of the most memorable weekends of my life. And while there’s a lot of childhood birthday parties and sleepovers that could vie for the most memorable weekend of my life, the one I’m thinking of is neither a birthday nor a sleepover. But it did occur while I was in eighth grade, my childhood best friends were all there, and it was two nights long.
It was an event known as Milestones that the church I was raised in put on. And out of all the events that that church ever put on, if there was one I’d carry into my future ministry it’d be this one. The point of the event was to commission 8th graders for high school. High school, for the child who is raised in the church, is a scary time. It is when a person starts becoming the person they will be for the rest of their life. For the child who is raised in the church, it will typically make or break their faith. That’s what the event was for: preparing eighth grade boys to be strong men of God who stand strong despite what others say. The three virtues it was centered around were: strength, courage, integrity. So everything that was done fit into one of those three categories. Strength initially seen in our 5 a.m. run the first morning there. Integrity initially most remembered from our purity talk. Courage in several different night activities.
But, out of all of these virtues, I think the most important one is integrity. In my personal opinion, integrity gives you strength and helps you have courage. Lack of integrity leaves you weak and worried. And integrity isn’t just in reference to sexual sin. Integrity also means that what you say is what you mean. And beyond that, it means that what you do is what is right to do, and you don’t try to hide improper actions.
So with that background, I’ll share the specific story. Saturday morning we woke up before the sun and went  for a run. Then we did push-ups. (Me as a scrawny eighth grader [what’s changed in 11 years?] had serious troubles here.) All we had for breakfast was a gross fruit-filled breakfast bar.  Then we did more strenuous activity for the rest of the morning. When lunch time came we were all hoping for something delicious, but we were sorely disappointed when we were served gruel. I don’t remember what all it was made of, but I do remember it having oatmeal, beans, and little pieces of pickles in it. (I also remember it not being as bad as I initially expected.) However, one of the students disagreed with my assessment and picked the pickle pieces out and threw them on the ground. (If I remember correctly, some of us knew who had done it because he’d bragged about it.) When asked by the leadership, no one would come clean, so we had to run. After like twenty minutes of extra running he finally came clean. Integrity.
I share this because it was a quote from MacArthur that reminded me of that weekend. He says, in summary of the book of Galatians, that there are only
“two forms of religion that man has ever known. There is grace/faith/Spirit religion, known as Christianity, and there is law/works/flesh religion, which identifies all the rest. . . . It is as if, on the market shelf of world religions, there are hundreds of attractive packages, with a great range of shapes, sizes, labels, claims, and prices. But inside all of them is the same tasteless, nutritionless sawdust of works righteousness. Standing alone, unattractive and repulsive to the natural man, is the gospel, which alone contains real food.”[1]
It’s the repulsive looking gruel that actually provides nourishment. It’s much better for you than processed pizza rolls or hot pockets.
Paul writes in Galatians 6:11-18, “Look at what large letters I use as I write to you in my own handwriting.  Those who want to make a good impression in the flesh are the ones who would compel you to be circumcised—but only to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ.  For even the circumcised don’t keep the law themselves; however, they want you to be circumcised in order to boast about your flesh.  But as for me, I will never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. The world has been crucified to me through the cross, and I to the world.  For both circumcision and uncircumcision mean nothing; what matters instead is a new creation.  May peace come to all those who follow this standard, and mercy to the Israel of God!  From now on, let no one cause me trouble, because I bear on my body scars for the cause of Jesus.  Brothers, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.
And today we are looking at Paul’s concluding sign-off from this letter. As such, Paul will review all of his key points before wishing his readers well. He starts in verse 11, by saying, “Look at what large letters I use as I write to you in my own handwriting.” Cole explains,
Paul takes the pen from his scribe (assuming that he has not written the whole letter himself) to write ‘The Grace’ in his own handwriting (cf. 2 Thess. 3:17), to assure them of the genuineness of the letter. But as he looks at the sprawling letters which he has written, he muses whimsically that they certainly make no fine outward show, and this becomes to him a parable of the whole of his life and ministry, and indeed of the Christian faith. As far as he is now concerned, there is nothing ‘fine’ in life but the cross of Christ; and he brushes the last vestiges of the Galatian quarrel from him in the knowledge of his own close relation to the crucified Messiah. On that note of peace the battle-scarred veteran ends the tortured letter.[2]
It is relatively well recognized that Paul employed a scribe to write his letters, and whether Paul told him the exact words to write, or gave him the topics he wanted written about with a little freedom for the scribe, Paul was still ultimately responsible for the content of the letter, so we can say that it was written by Paul.[3] Richards explains that the person behind the scribe could authenticate a letter in three ways (descending order of value; ascending order of commonness): seal pressed into clay, summary of contents, word of farewell in author’s handwriting. “An author was held responsible for every word of the letter. The personal handwriting at the end of a letter indicated the author had seen the letter and consequently assumed responsibility for its contents.”[4] However, Richards notes that “it is impossible to verify a postscript from Paul in his own handwriting,” because we only have copies today. “Paul, however, on more than one occasion drew attention to his handwriting.”[5] Richards also explains, “There is one clear example of a summary postscript among the letters of Paul (Philem 19-21).”[6] He then writes two pages later, “There are ample examples that Paul used a postscript as a ‘signature’ to his letters. Galatians 6:11-18 is the most commonly cited example.”[7] In this post, I seek to show that Galatians 6:11-18 is in fact a summary postscript, summing up all the main points of the letter, even though he breaks from the common norm of repeating “the material in the same order as the body of the letter.”[8]
Paul summarizes 4:8-6:10 in verses 12-13, “Those who want to make a good impression in the flesh are the ones who would compel you to be circumcised—but only to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ. For even the circumcised don’t keep the law themselves; however, they want you to be circumcised in order to boast about your flesh.
Paul was very clear in chapters 5-6 about not being under the Law anymore. He clearly showed the Galatians that the Judaizers were trying to put them back under a yoke of slavery. He explained that being under that yoke of slavery meant that Christ was pointless to them, and that outside of Christ they had no hope of keeping the law. It is only in Christ—through love—that the Law is fulfilled (5:6; 5:13-6:10). The Judaizers’ goals were explained clearly in 4:17: “They are enthusiastic about you, but not for any good. Instead, they want to isolate you so you will be enthusiastic about them.” They wanted to feed their egos because others had followed them, as Paul summarizes in 6:14. However, just like Paul said that the children of promise were persecuted by the child according to the flesh (4:29), he says the Judaizers preach circumcision to avoid persecution. Paul is saying, “Flee this false gospel of Law-keeping and follow Jesus who will truly enable you to keep the Law by the power of His Spirit.”
Paul summarizes 2:11-4:7 in verses 14-15, “But as for me, I will never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. The world has been crucified to me through the cross, and I to the world. For both circumcision and uncircumcision mean nothing; what matters instead is a new creation.
Paul took great pains in 2:11-4:7 to describe and prove theologically that we are not to follow the Law as believers. Paul is contrasting the Judaizer’s hope to boast in the Galatians’ flesh, by saying his sure boast in in the cross. And lest we fall for the popular notion, “By the Cross of Christ is not to be understood here the two pieces of wood to which He was nailed, but all the afflictions of the believers whose sufferings are Christ’s sufferings,”[9] allow me to offer an alternative. Paul here strikes on the fact that the curse of the Law was defeated by Christ on the cross, and in Christ’s victory—and His alone—Paul boasts. Because only Christ’s victory allows for the freedom in Christ that Paul heralds in 5:1. Galatians 6:14 easily sums up Paul’s theological claim in 3:10-14. It also brings added meaning to Paul’s statement in 5:24. The victory is sure, even if not yet fully realized. We boast in Christ’s sure work, not our feeble attempts.
Because of this, and because it’s a promise and not circumcision that makes a person right with God, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision matters. This is GOOD NEWS for WOMEN everywhere, and is why Paul said what he did in Galatians 3:28, “There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (emphasis added). This new creation model is thoroughly explained by Paul in 5:13-6:10.
Paul hones in on and enhances 3:16 in verse 16, “May peace come to all those who follow this standard, and mercy to the Israel of God!” The standard he is speaking of is the new creation standard laid out in 5:13-6:10. If a person is walking by this model, Paul wishes peace upon them, whether or not they are circumcised. MacArthur explains, “To walk by this rule is to accept the gospel of divine accomplishment through Christ’s sacrifice on thee cross and to walk by faith in the power of His Spirit, rather than by sight in the power of the flesh.”[10]
The way the Greek sentence is structured, it makes the most sense to equate the ones who are wished peace with the ones who are wished mercy. In this case, those who are walking by this rule are the Israel of God. Paul had written in Galatians 3:16, “Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say ‘and to seeds,’ as though referring to many, but referring to one, and to your seed, who is Christ.” Christ is the ultimate fulfillment of Israel, and those who are members of His body, by faith in His promise and no external religious symbol, are rightly called members of Israel, or the Israel of God. Cole explains clearly,
While there is place for the believing Christian Jew in the kingdom of God, there is no place for the unbelieving, Jew or Gentile. Paul would go even further than that. He would say that the ‘believing Jew’ belongs to God’s Israel, but that the Judaizer who does not walk by this rule does not belong. There cannot therefore be two groups within the church; there can only be one. That was why Paul was fighting at Antioch, for ‘table fellowship’ between Jewish and Gentile Christians.[11]
And thus we also tie in 2:11-21 into this concluding summary.
Paul summarizes 1:11-2:10 in verse 17, “From now on, let no one cause me trouble, because I bear on my body scars for the cause of Jesus.” And let me just come clean and say at the outset that Paul is not talking about the marks of crucifixion that Jesus had showing up on his own body. Mysticism, even Christian mysticism, is dumb. Saint Francis of Assisi was crazy, as well as the whole concept that has flown out of his lousy understanding of Galatians 6:17.[12] This is why devotional interpretation of Scripture falls short, because it removes passages from their original context and is capable of making them say things they never intended to say. It’s no wonder the focus of this passage has been on what the scars are. I don’t think it’s Paul’s point at all.
As a writer, and an ex-English major, it is verbs that propel sentences. A better story is written with multiple verbs, than with piles of adjectives. For that reason, I firmly believe that the emphasis in verse 17 is in the verb: “bear,” which happens to be the same word used in 5:10, 6:2, and 6:5—the only other three occurrences in the book. When Paul uses it in 5:10, he is talking about the false teachers being responsible for their teaching, and bearing the judgment of God; in 6:5, he’s talking about everyone on earth being responsible for the fruit of their life. In 6:2, he commands us to bear one anothers’ burdens. In 2 Corinthians 11:28, in the midst of a list of physical difficulties—visible proofs of which were probably present on his body—Paul says, “Not to mention other things, there is the daily pressure on me: my care for all the churches.”
Jesus was marked for His church on the cross (Hebrews 12:2). The members of churches are His bride (Ephesians 5:22-32). Jesus identifies Himself with His bride (Acts 9:4-5). Therefore the pains of the church are the pains of Jesus. If Paul bears the marks of Jesus in his body, then Paul is saying that he is bearing with the members of the church in love.
This can be further proven to be a likely interpretation. As a summary statement, Paul is not bringing anything new into his discussion at this point. The first phrase of the verse is especially telling: “let no one cause me trouble.” We have long been away from discussion about those who were causing Paul himself trouble. It was what he spent 1:11-2:10 discussing. He had to prove that he was qualified to preach Christ. Ultimately, what Paul is saying in verse 17 is that he is totally qualified to preach Christ because he practices what he preaches. By bearing with the saints in love, he is clearly walking by the Spirit and proving that his theology is real; he is a worthy apostle. One of the earliest Christian documents, known as the Didache, or “The Teaching of the Twelve” clarifies about discerning who is a true or false teacher: “and every prophet who teaches the truth, if he does not do what he teaches is a false prophet.”[13] Paul did what he taught; he could be trusted; no one needed to trouble him about that fact anymore.
Paul concludes with only slight derivations from his typical sign-off in verse 18, “Brothers, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.” The conclusions of all of Paul’s epistles are very similar. And here there are three parts to notice that make it slightly unique. He begins by calling them brothers. This is likely to comfort them, lest they have been scared about the state of their position in Christ by the content of the letter. Secondly, he asks that the grace of Christ specifically be with their spirit. This is a wish that those who truly are brothers would be comforted by Christ’s grace. And then he concludes by saying, “Amen.” Cole explains,
Paul, with full meaning, sets his Amen, common at the end of Hebrew blessings and prayers, from which it has passed into Christian usage (1 Cor. 14:16). But it is really an Amen to the uniqueness of Christ and the sufficiency of his cross for salvation, so that it is also an Amen to the whole letter, and indeed to Paul’s whole theological position, since God himself has already set his Amen to Christ (2 Cor. 1:20).[14]
And with that, we’ve come to the end of Galatians. I would argue that my following lyrical summary of the book would pretty well give the main points of the letter:
And if we take a close look at Galatians we’ll see
That Paul wants us to be clear—not in any way deceived
If we follow law we’ve fallen from grace
And it’s up to us to hold our place
Cuz Jesus became a curse for us
And His life is what makes us righteous
For that reason stand firm—resist the yoke
Of slavery that will just leave you choked
Instead walk in love and truly fulfill the Law
Christ did first and His Spirit enables us all.
But, if I just end it there, I’ve not done my job.
This whole book points to the gospel. John MacArthur explains, “The book of Galatians has been called ‘The Crucifixion Epistle,’ not only because it directly mentions the cross or crucifixion some seven times . . . but because God’s redemptive grace, the theme of the epistle, became efficient for men only through the cross of Christ.”[15] And thus, since the song is titled, “Christ Crucified,” I’ll let Shai Linne call you to faith in Christ.
When I say “Trust in Jesus”, cats look at me like I’m crazy, yet
This song is your “wake-up show” like Sway and Tech
‘Cause sin’s problem is much greater than human hurts
You owe a debt to the Creator of the universe
And trust me son, He’ll do much more than dial your number
The Lord is gonna track you down like a bounty hunter
On judgment day, coppin’ pleas ain’t gonna work
‘Cause God is like a shower drain, He sees all your dirt
The evil you do with your devious crew
You’re rotten to the core, He’s knocking at your door
Your weed and your brew, the freaks that you screw
You’re shopping at the store; you should be dropping to the floor
If you make it your business to pray for forgiveness
The Savior of misfits will take you from His hit list
But say you dismiss this- it shows you’re misled
‘Cause like “The 6th Sense” you don’t even know that you’re dead.[16]
I pray that you wouldn’t wait one more day to trust Christ with your life, and that you would refuse to trust yourself any longer.
This book was one that played a key role in helping to lead to the milestone in Christian history known as the Reformation. As such, I’ll let Martin Luther close us out with the closing words of his commentary, because I second them. “The Lord Jesus Christ, our Savior, who gave me the strength and the grace to explain this Epistle and granted you the grace to hear it, preserve and strengthen us in faith unto the day of our redemption. To Him, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, be glory, world without end. Amen.[17]
Til next time. (I’m going to take about a month break from exposition of a biblical book, but when I resume, we will be looking at the book of Joshua.)
Soli Deo Gloria. Solus Christus.

[1] John MacArthur, Galatians, 194.
[2] R. Alan Cole, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries – Galatians, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Academic, 2008), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 233.
[3] See David B. Capes, Rodney Reeves, and E. Randolph Richards, Rediscovering Paul: an Introduction to His World, Letters and Theology (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2011); E Randolph Richards, Paul and First-Century Letter Writing: Secretaries, Composition, and Collection (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004).
[4] E Randolph Richards, Paul and First-Century Letter Writing: Secretaries, Composition, and Collection , 171.
[5] Ibid., 173
[6] Ibid., 173. Emphasis in original.
[7] Ibid., 175.
[8] Ibid., 172.
[9] Martin Luther, A Commentary on St. Paul's Epistle to the Galatians.
[10] John MacArthur, Galatians, 210.
[11] R. Alan Cole, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries – Galatians, 237.
[12] For more information on the topic, check out this page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stigmata.
[13] Charles Hoole, trans., The Didache: The Teaching of the Lord to the Gentiles through the Twelve Apostles, (London: David Nutt, 1894), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, Under: "Chapter 11". Grammar and wording slightly modified by me for modern readers.
[14] R. Alan Cole, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries – Galatians, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Academic, 2008), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 241.
[15] John MacArthur, Galatians, 198.
[16] Shai Linne, “Christ Crucified,” The Solus Christus Project (Lampmode Recordings: 2005), MP3.
[17] Martin Luther, A Commentary on St. Paul's Epistle to the Galatians.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Sowing and Reaping Reassessed – 6:6-10

I’m probably gonna catch some flak man
But ima swallow this pill like pac-man
Some of these folks won’t tell the truth
too busy tryina get them racks man
Church tryina rob my paychecks
Choir members probably having gay sex
Pastor manipulating, hurting women
I wonder what he’s gonna say next
Bookstore pimpin them hope books
Like God don’t know how broke looks
And tellin me that I’m gonna reap a mil
If I sow into these low crooks
Plus I know ol’ girl a freak, now how she sing the solo
I walked into church with a snapback and they tellin’ me that’s a no-no
That’s backwards and I lack words for these actors called pastors
All these folks is hypocrites and that’s why I ain’t at church.[1]
And if there’s ever been a song written by a Christian artist that truly made me uncomfortable, it would be this one. Especially the line about pastors. The first time I heard it, I felt dirty for listening to it. The pastors that I grew up in the faith under for the first three years of my Christian life were not at all actors. They were some of the realest people I’ve ever known. However, if I’m being totally honest, I’ve turned to these lyrics several times in the past three years in times of anger and frustration to say, “This is what is wrong with the American church.” However, when my ipod played this song in the past week, the heavy emphasis on money, and the specific words “reap” and “sow” got me thinking. In addition, a news article I found on Facebook this week explained that the sixth of the top reasons why 59% of millennials have left the church is because of “distrust and misallocation of resources.” The author explains, “Over and over we’ve been told to ‘tithe’ and give 10 percent of our incomes to the church, but where does that money actually go? Millennials, more than any other generation, don’t trust institutions, for we have witnessed over and over how corrupt and self-serving they can be.”[2] While I don’t agree with the solutions proposed by the article, the point stands that the common, “Give your money and God will bless you,” teaching has done a ton of damage. I say this up front, because today’s passage has Paul talking about sowing and reaping. Let’s look at the context.
Paul writes in Galatians 5:16-6:10,[3]I say then, walk by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.  For the flesh desires what is against the Spirit, and the Spirit desires what is against the flesh; these are opposed to each other, so that you don’t do what you want.  But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.  Now the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, moral impurity, promiscuity,  idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambitions, dissensions, factions,  envy, drunkenness, carousing, and anything similar. I tell you about these things in advance—as I told you before—that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith,  gentleness, self-control. Against such things there is no law.  Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.  Since we live by the Spirit, we must also follow the Spirit.  We must not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. Brothers, if someone is caught in any wrongdoing, you who are spiritual should restore such a person with a gentle spirit, watching out for yourselves so you also won’t be tempted.  Carry one another’s burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.  For if anyone considers himself to be something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.  But each person should examine his own work, and then he will have a reason for boasting in himself alone, and not in respect to someone else.  For each person will have to carry his own load.  The one who is taught the message must share all his good things with the teacher.  Don’t be deceived: God is not mocked. For whatever a man sows he will also reap,  because the one who sows to his flesh will reap corruption from the flesh, but the one who sows to the Spirit will reap eternal life from the Spirit.  So we must not get tired of doing good, for we will reap at the proper time if we don’t give up.  Therefore, as we have opportunity, we must work for the good of all, especially for those who belong to the household of faith.
And before tying it all together, let me just explain one thing I’m happy about from the past three years: learning how to properly interpret Scripture. Three years ago, I would have said, “The beginning talks about bearing in love, and this talks about sowing and reaping; I’ll tell what the text says without keeping them connected.” However, that’s faulty Bible study. Paul wrote this whole letter. From the first word to the last, it’s one complete argument. We can’t chop it and take what we want where we want and call it exegesis. We have to read all of it as a unit.
So we’ve finally come to the end of this super long section. Paul has proved that the Law is fulfilled through love for one another, but also that the flesh wars against the Spirit. He’s described the results of following the flesh and the results of following the Spirit, and he’s commanded that believers bear with one another in love and it was shown how that fulfills the Spirit’s fruit and successfully wars against the flesh. Today, Paul wants to show us how we bear with those who teach us the Word, and in so doing shows us another way to resist the desires of the flesh, and encourages pastors to remain faithful in their ministry.
Paul begins in verse 6 by saying, “The one who is taught the message must share all his good things with the teacher.” John MacArthur writes, “The seemingly obvious interpretation, and the one that is most common, is that Paul is exhorting congregations to pay their pastors fairly. But although that principle is taught in the New Testament . . . it does not seem to be what Paul is teaching here.”[4] However, I must lovingly disagree. Especially when Calvin, Luther, and another modern commentator all see monetary giving being spoken of here. Cole states, “It is, as often, difficult to decide whether this is the final verse of this section or the opening verse of the next. As usual, it will be best to take it as a ‘bridge verse’, whichever group it is considered as falling under. . . . When Paul says koin┼Źneito, share, or ‘have fellowship’, it is a Christian euphemism for ‘make a financial contribution’.”[5]
Now, lest I dismiss MacArthur too quickly, his explanation must be discussed, because it is helpful to understand the full meaning of our text today. MacArthur sees verse 6 as going with verses 1-5, and wants to equate “the teacher” of verse 6 with one of “the spiritual ones,” in verse 1. He helpfully explains that the word translated “share” in verse 6 is commonly translated “fellowship,” and the word translated “good things” speaks primarily of things that have “spiritual or moral excellence,” and thus “the spiritual Christian who has picked up and held up his fallen brother also builds him up in the word, in whose good things they fellowship together.”[6] Thus MacArthur sees the spiritual believer and the recovering believer as being able to share fellowship together in the good fruit that results from the recovering believer heeding the teaching of the spiritual believer.
I take the time to explain that because it helps add an extra layer to the following verses, even if we understand fellowship primarily as “monetary support.” In verses 7-8, Paul explains the spiritual truth behind his command to share with the teacher. “Don’t be deceived: God is not mocked. For whatever a man sows he will also reap,  because the one who sows to his flesh will reap corruption from the flesh, but the one who sows to the Spirit will reap eternal life from the Spirit.” He starts by commanding them not to be deceived. Paul knows that the flesh wants to hold on to every dollar it is given. He also knows that the flesh wants to isolate itself and not fellowship with other believers. He says you can’t trick God; the law of nature—reaping what you sow—cannot be undermined. If a person refuses fellowship with other believers they will reap from the flesh; if a person hoards every dollar they are given, they will reap from the flesh. God cannot be mocked. I want to give two examples for how this process works in the life of Christianity today: one in the context of the local church and one in the context of the wider Christian world.
First, in the local church we are called to share with those who teach us the word. We share with them by giving our money—tithe/10% is never called for in the New Testament. The model is actually to give until it hurts. Listen to this from Luke 21: “He looked up and saw the rich dropping their offerings into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow dropping in two tiny coins. ‘I tell you the truth,’ He said. ‘This poor widow has put in more than all of them. For all these people have put in gifts out of their surplus, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.’” (Luke 21:1-4). She gave 100%. Paul will connect this act of giving to the Spirit’s manifestation of love in 2 Corinthians 8:8-9, “I am not saying this as a command. Rather, by means of the diligence of others, I am testing the genuineness of your love. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ: Though He was rich, for your sake He became poor, so that by His poverty you might become rich.” This is what our giving to the ministry should look like. (And in Galatians 6:6 it is a command.) Since we reap what we sow, the teaching will reflect itself in our lives. If the teaching is all talk and no action, the lives will be all talk and no action. If the teaching is judgmental and degrading, the hearers will become judgmental Pharisees. For this reason, the pastor should teach accurately so the people keep giving. He shouldn’t have to preach one sermon a month on giving to keep people convicted about the need to give; they should do it willingly because he teaches accurately and models it in his own life. In the same way, if a ministry is fruitless, there is no need to sow monetary funds into it to keep it going, especially if it is doctrinally off or failing in the Christian living it produces.
In much the same way, as Christians, we read books written by other Christians. When we do this we are sowing into their ministry, and fellowshipping with them. Since the teaching becomes the living and we reap what we sow, we should not spend time in worthless Christian media. If we do, it will come out in our life. If Christians only purchased biblically sound, gospel centered works, it would spur pastors worldwide to be accurate, biblical, and Christ-centered; and a revival of sorts would take place in the church which could then lead to a revival in the world.
We must sow to the Spirit so that we can reap eternal life and avoid fulfilling the desires of the flesh. We must not sow to the flesh because if we do, we reap corruption, and this is first shown in a lack of assurance of salvation. People—like the majority of millennials today—who avoid church are sowing to the flesh and reaping corruption. I personally believe the biggest problem with millennials is their pride: they can’t take it if someone says they are wrong, and since the first premise of the Gospel is that everyone is wrong, no millennial—or really anyone else—wants to hear it. Thus they avoid the church and put up smokescreens so they can continue to sow to their flesh.
And then in verses 9-10 we see an exhortation to persevere in love for believers—summing up the whole section. “So we must not get tired of doing good, for we will reap at the proper time if we don’t give up.  Therefore, as we have opportunity, we must work for the good of all, especially for those who belong to the household of faith.” It is hard work to bear with each other. It is hard to sacrificially give our resources away. It is often very hard to resist the desires of the flesh. However, we must rest in the Spirit and let Him manifest Himself in our lives. The truth is there: we will reap if we don’t give up sowing. This earthly life is the opportunity to sow. Sowing to the Spirit—the sowing we must not give up—is done through bearing with one another, fellowshipping with one another, not hoarding resources from one another, and by resisting the desires of the flesh. We also sow by doing the exact opposite, but that will result in corruption and we must give that up right now.
If your pastor is faithful to the Word and to pointing you toward Christ, give of your resources. Especially if he is a fulltime pastor who is employed by the church. He relies on you for support. If he is taking care of your spiritual needs, you owe it to him to help support him. If you don’t give of your resources, you want to reap corruption from the flesh.
However, if your pastor is not faithful to the Word, you are not sowing to the Spirit by giving to his ministry. Unfaithfulness to the Word—and neglect of the Gospel as presented in Galatians—leads to the unhealthy situation that Paul had to correct in this letter. The reason he’s spent so much time on the difference between the flesh and the Spirit is because legalism and lawlessness both lead to fleshly corruption, and not to the Spirit’s eternal life. If your pastor does not preach the gospel, you will not reap eternal life by giving to him, but rather corruption from the flesh.
It is important to note what Paul says at the end of verse 10. We must work for the good of all, but especially for believers. When millennials are all about causes in the world, that’s great, but when they neglect to come to church because they feel that the church isn’t doing enough for those “out there,” they are missing the point. We—as the church—owe love first and foremost to our own. Only after loving believers to the nth degree are we to show love to the world. And the primary way we’ll show the world love is by telling them they’re wrong and that only in Jesus can they be made right.
Why do you neglect to give to the church? Is it because you don’t belong there because you have yet to be made a part of it by the blood of Jesus? I would plead with you to believe in Him today. Find a church that points you to Him and get involved. Love others well, which includes giving up your resources, and sow to the Spirit for eternal life.
In conclusion, the church has done a lot of damage in the name of “sowing and reaping.” However, that is because they have separated the act of giving from the fruit of living. The teaching is promoted by the giving. The teaching shows its true colors through the living that follows. If you want to live a life of love to God and others, give to teaching that accurately represents who God is. This will lead to eternal life, and is another way in which we win the war against the flesh, walk by the Spirit in freedom, and prove that we are not under Law but rather fulfilling Christ’s Law by bearing with one another in love.
Til next time.
Soli Deo Gloria. Solus Christus.

[1] Lecrae, “Church Clothes,” Church Clothes (Reach Records, 2012).
[2] Sam Eaton, “59 Percent of Millennials Raised in a Church Have Dropped Out—And They’re Trying to Tell Us Why,” Faith It, http://faithit.com/12-reasons-millennials-over-church-sam-eaton/.
[3] 6:6-:10 are bolded because those are what this post is focusing on.
[4] John MacArthur, Galatians, 182.
[5] R. Alan Cole, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries – Galatians, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Academic, 2008), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 228.
[6] John MacArthur, Galatians, 182.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Unexpected Answers to Prayers

Working on my upcoming album, Welcome to da Faith, and I was brought to my knees in humility, realization, shame, and sorrow. I trust that it’s the sorrow leading to repentance (2 Corinthians 7:9-10). Here’s the lyrics that did it to me:
. . . God I need truth
Plow up my heart so I can grow closer to You
It’s my urgent request—nothing is new
Except I see my hardness of heart as sin against You
No life can come out of rocks or stones
And God, You alone can cause me to groan
And weep every time I sin against You—You alone
If I’m gonna grow I need my heart totally blown apart
I wrote this song, ultimately about growing close to God and bearing fruit for Him and leaving a godly legacy in the beginning of 2013. In fact, all the songs on the upcoming album are snapshots into various parts of the last 5 years of my life: explanations for each will follow after the album drops on April 16th, 2017.
And while proofreading my lyrics and making sure the tracks are record-ready, the final line of the lyrics quoted above smacked me in the face. “If I’m gonna grow I need my heart totally blown apart.” I wrote that before moving to Missouri, and perhaps it’s why God wanted me here for the past three and a half years. In all honesty, it’s been one heartbreak after another. I’ve been forced to say, “All I have is Christ. Hallelujah, all I have is Christ,” but unfortunately, I’ve done way too much complaining to God during this time.
“God, when are You going to bring her to me?”
“God, why does no one love me?”
“God, why don’t You care?”
“God, I’m a cry-baby, and I don’t care.”
“God, because of all this junk I can justify x, y, and z.”
And here’s what kills me. I pray in the song the lyrics above come from that God would grow my faith and love for Him and fruitfulness for Him. I conclude that the best way for this to happen is for Him to totally blow my heart apart. By last fall it was about as splintered apart as it could possibly get, but instead of saying, “Thank You, Lord, for answering my prayer to grow me in my Christian walk,” I complained and used the excuses quoted above.
So this brings all new meaning to the lyrics to another song on my album, penned just before coming to the realization that this post is about.
The last seven years—where should I start
Many mends to be made to holes in my heart
Some methods God has used have taken me off guard
But faith don’t grow stronger if resistance ain’t hard
Some of the heartbreak I’ve experience has been directly related to potential girlfriends/actual girlfriends. Other of the heartbreaks has been caused by churches failing to live up to their biblical calling: to preach the gospel to believer and unbeliever and point people to Christ, calling them all to repentance. When it comes to answered prayers, while I’ve failed to praise God rightly through His loving work of taking away (Job 1:21), He has definitely helped to clarify that I am called to the ministry and clearly shown me how to do it rightly through the examples (the past three years specifically) of how not to do it.
Love God. Love others. Just like it’s not enough to just say, “I love God,” it’s also not enough to just tell other Christians, “I love you.” It’s gotta be shown. God has convinced me over the last six years of the truth of both sides of the “prove your love equation,” and He has done a lot of it through the supremely tough times I’ve dealt with the past three years. Praise God that He’s forgiven me for missing the point for so long. But it is now time to allow Him to continue to work in my life, and not allow the potentially great times coming soon to cause me to forget the lessons learned in the hard times.

Soli Deo Gloria.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Lessons in Love (with Legos) – 5:25-6:5

I like Legos. I really like Legos. And while modern building kits expect you to separate the pieces into like colors before beginning to build, I prefer to dump all 800+ pieces into one pile and dig through it until I find the piece I need. For me it’s part of the experience that makes Legos so much fun. And I took a few pictures last night that sort of show what I mean. Legos are meant to interact with each other. They are not meant to be segregated by color or even by type. So here we see characters interacting and segregated by their roles: droids in a group, pilots in a group, and mechanics in a group,
and here we see them how they should be: all interspersed and interacting with each other,
And I bring all that up because that is a very easy way to illustrate the point of what Paul is saying in Galatians 5:25-6:5. Based on everything he’s said up to this point, this passage screams, “Put it into practice!” Let’s get back into the context.
Paul writes in Galatians 5:16-6:10,[1]I say then, walk by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.  For the flesh desires what is against the Spirit, and the Spirit desires what is against the flesh; these are opposed to each other, so that you don’t do what you want.  But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.  Now the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, moral impurity, promiscuity,  idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambitions, dissensions, factions,  envy, drunkenness, carousing, and anything similar. I tell you about these things in advance—as I told you before—that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith,  gentleness, self-control. Against such things there is no law.  Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.  Since we live by the Spirit, we must also follow the Spirit.  We must not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. Brothers, if someone is caught in any wrongdoing, you who are spiritual should restore such a person with a gentle spirit, watching out for yourselves so you also won’t be tempted.  Carry one another’s burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.  For if anyone considers himself to be something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.  But each person should examine his own work, and then he will have a reason for boasting in himself alone, and not in respect to someone else.  For each person will have to carry his own load.  The one who is taught the message must share all his good things with the teacher.  Don’t be deceived: God is not mocked. For whatever a man sows he will also reap,  because the one who sows to his flesh will reap corruption from the flesh, but the one who sows to the Spirit will reap eternal life from the Spirit.  So we must not get tired of doing good, for we will reap at the proper time if we don’t give up.  Therefore, as we have opportunity, we must work for the good of all, especially for those who belong to the household of faith.
So at this point, Paul has theologically proved that we don’t need the Law any longer as believers. He’s proven that if you return to the Law you are returning to slavery. He’s proven at the same time that as believers we are to fulfill the Law, but we do it not by obeying rules, but by loving others. And then Paul says that the Spirit—which wants to express love—is harassed and assaulted by the flesh. Paul then described what a life in the flesh is characterized by, and he contrasted it with a life characterized by the Spirit’s power. And that’s where we find ourselves today.
The first thing Paul does is connect back to 3:2-3. There he had written, “I only want to learn this from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law or by hearing with faith?  Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now going to be made complete by the flesh?” And here, in 5:25, Paul answers that question: “Since we live by the Spirit, we must also follow the Spirit.” John MacArthur understands “live by the Spirit” to refer to the new life that believers have because of Christ, and “walk by the Spirit” to refer to their new way of life.[2] Thus Paul is clear that a person who claims to be a Christian, whose life remains unchanged, is deceived, and actually not alive at all. John Calvin says of this verse, “The apostle draws from the doctrine a practical exhortation. The death of the flesh is the life of the Spirit. If the Spirit of God lives in us, let him govern our actions.”[3] And that’s exactly what the next eleven verses (5:26-6:10) focus on.
Paul starts with the negative exhortation to conclude chapter 5. “We must not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.” There are many things to say about this verse. MacArthur notes one aspect: “The pursuit of holiness can be perverted into self-righteous, proud piosity. No sin does greater damage to the church or is more offensive to God than self-righteousness.”[4] However, it doesn’t need to just refer to self-righteousness. According to one dictionary, the word translated “provoke,” literally means, “to call forth to oneself (challenge), i.e. (by implication to irritate).”[5] Paul wants believers in the Galatian church, and us in our churches today, to refuse to be irritants to other people.
Now don’t hear what I’m not saying. I’m not saying that if someone in your church has an annoying habit or annoying hobby that Paul is saying they need to stop. That’s not it at all. What Paul is saying, is that if something is being done habitually that causes another brother or sister to stumble into sin (for instance flaunting a relationship that you are super proud of, that causes another believer to be filled with jealousy, anger, and bitterness), you need to reassess your decisions within that relationship. (Note that I did not say you need to break off the relationship.) In the church—especially on a Sunday morning—biblical teaching would argue that everyone is equal, and special relationships between people should be hung up when coming through the door. Galatians 3:28 says, “You are all one in Christ,” the same word for “one” that Jesus uses in Matthew 19:5 to explain the “one flesh” relationship between a husband and wife. Unity is better shown when couples aren’t fawning over each other in the pews.[6] And just so we’re clear, true biblical love—fruit of the Spirit—will allow believers to interact with others’ husbands and wives in a church service with complete respect and holiness, and it will not make for potential affairs and the like. (Outside the church gathering is different, because in the church gathering there are multiple people around, while there isn’t necessarily anyone else around in other settings.) Rant over.
Paul then writes 6:1-5 where he explains what the positive practical application is. “Brothers, if someone is caught in any wrongdoing, you who are spiritual should restore such a person with a gentle spirit, watching out for yourselves so you also won’t be tempted.  Carry one another’s burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.  For if anyone considers himself to be something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.  But each person should examine his own work, and then he will have a reason for boasting in himself alone, and not in respect to someone else.  For each person will have to carry his own load.” If we act like the Legos in the first picture above, we only practice this passage with the other believers we approve of. However, true unity, and fulfillment of the Spirit’s fruits looks like the second picture. John MacArthur writes, “Though a Christian’s first concern must be for his own holiness and purity of life, God’s Word makes clear that he also has a responsibility for the holiness and purity of the rest of the church.”[7] Note that he does not say “part of the rest of the church,” but “the rest of the church.” This is huge! Paul’s exhortation to positive love can be broken into two subsections: bearing with others and watching ourselves.
Verses 1-2 explain bearing with others: “Brothers, if someone is caught in any wrongdoing, you who are spiritual should restore such a person with a gentle spirit, watching out for yourselves so you also won’t be tempted.  Carry one another’s burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Here’s a mind-blowing thought: this should be what the church is known for. It should be happening day in and day out in the lives of church members. And what follows is a saddening truth: it doesn’t happen like it should, even though churches claim to preach love all the time. Too often, we’re okay with our group of like-minded—like-dressed—Lego friends—be them hipsters or thugs, black or white, or old or young—and let the ones different from us take care of themselves. Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 1:10 should sting our ears into change, “Now I urge you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree in what you say, that there be no divisions among you, and that you be united with the same understanding and the same conviction.[8] In churches these days, people think it’s a good idea to have “foot washing services” in order to demonstrate love for fellow believers, and it’s because they’d rather do a ritual that is totally meaningless today than get their hands dirty “bearing with each other.” When this passage says, “in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ,” Paul is saying, “This is how you fulfill the law—loving one another.” And just to take it even one step farther, when Jesus says in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  All of you, take up My yoke and learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for yourselves.  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light,” and when Paul says, “Carry one another’s burdens,” they are together saying that Jesus carries our burdens in life through other believers carrying our burdens. If you don’t get involved in the lives of other believers, and bear their burdens with them, you are casting a blasphemous picture of what Jesus is like. We must all repent of our failures in this area!
Galatians 6:1 ends by saying, “Watching out for yourselves so you won’t be tempted,” and verses 3-5 explain what this looks like: “For if anyone considers himself to be something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.  But each person should examine his own work, and then he will have a reason for boasting in himself alone, and not in respect to someone else.  For each person will have to carry his own load.” I initially understood the charge in Galatians 6:1 to mean that, for instance, helping a struggling brother try to overcome a pornography addiction might open me up to that temptation, and while I don’t doubt that reality, I think it works itself out differently. Paul is saying, “When you help someone else overcome a sin or temptation, you need to watch out for temptations toward pride because you don’t struggle with that specific sin; if you allow pride to creep in, remember that ‘pride comes before destruction’ (Proverbs 16:18).” This is where verse 3 comes into effect. You deceive yourself if you think you’re too good to be tempted to certain sins. Then verses 4-5 explain that the only person we’re ultimately responsible for is ourselves. For this reason we should desire others to help us bear our loads, and we should likewise eagerly seek to help others bear theirs. When only one person in a church is actually interested in loving biblically, that church will not be healthy, and the one loving person can become easily provoked (5:26), and if there’s no one there to bear his burden with him, he falls and falls farther and farther.
Before closing out this post, I want to demonstrate how every fruit of the Spirit is manifested through these six verses. Love is very clearly shown through the phrase, “in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” By interacting with believers in this way, we can’t help but to show love. Martin Luther said, “The Law of Christ is the Law of love. Christ gave us no other law than this law of mutual love: ‘A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another.’ To love means to bear another’s burdens.”[9] Joy is shown in the fact that 1) it should bring us joy to love others in this way, 2) we should be joyful in our practicing this task, and 3) doing this helps others to have joy. Peace is shown because if we all bear with each other and carry each other’s troubles, we won’t consider ourselves to be what we are not (6:3). Patience is shown by continually “bearing with each other” and “carrying one another’s burdens” even after months of already doing so. Kindness was discussed last time as being from the same root as Christ, and as such kindness is shown by being Christ to others by fulfilling His law of love. Goodness is shown because it is good to love others. Faithfulness is shown as a pattern of life that seeks to be faithful to the Spirit (5:25), and that is done no better way than by bearing with one another in love as a pattern of life. Gentleness is shown if we do this rightly; the same word as the manifestation of the Spirit (5:23) appears in 6:1 (“with a gentle spirit”). Self-control is shown because we are supposed to watch ourselves for pride in our hearts. Paul has now commanded believers to practice all the fruit of the Spirit through the act of bearing with one another in love.
In conclusion, as believers in a local church we must interact in each other’s lives. There is no such thing as a church member who doesn’t deserve your care and concern. Be the Legos in the second picture; don’t let the first picture describe you!
Til next time.
Soli Deo Gloria. Solus Christus.


[1] 5:25-6:5 are bolded because those are what this post is focusing on.
[2] John MacArthur, Galatians, 171.
[3] John Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul to the Galatians and Ephesians.
[4] John MacArthur, Galatians, 175.
[5] James Strong, Strong's Talking Greek & Hebrew Dictionary, (Austin, TX: WORDsearch Corp., 2007), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, Under: "4292". Emphasis in original.
[6] Thinking back, my stance on this specific issue may have contributed to my ex breaking up with me. I wouldn’t treat her differently at church than I’d treat any other woman there. Church is not the place for PDA.
[7] John MacArthur, Galatians, 175. Emphasis added.
[8] Emphasis added.
[9] Martin Luther, A Commentary on St. Paul's Epistle to the Galatians.