Galatians: Slaves to the Elementary Principles of the World

In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world.

Galatians 4:3

Having reminded the believers of the common practice of the heir of a family being under the tutalige of a guardian until the father deems the chid’s training is complete, he applies the priciple of being under guardianship to the Galatian believers.

In this context, the idea of being children or immature is related specifically to the pre-conversion state of the believers. As you see in chapter’s one and two, the believers Paul is writing to is made up of both Jews and gentiles. For the Jew, the law was the first principle children were suppose to learn. It gave the principles of where people came from, God’s promises to the decendents of Ham then to Abraham and his decendents and ultimately to Jesus who fulfills all the requirements of the Law.

The Gentiles too had elementary principles in which they were enslaved. The Greek and Roman god’s were caprircious and the worshippers served them for what they can get out of the god. Worship the god of war in order to have victory over your enemy or the goddess of fertility to have good crops and many children. However should something tragic happen, one was left not knowing which god to appease.

Even by the first century, however, worship of the God’s started to fall out of favor, the Greek philosophers began to ask the question about what makes the universe work and their thoughts took them to the one thing that all the universe can be explained by. Some would argue for 4 or more elements from which all other actions and materials were formed. The gods were simply the eminations from the one quality or substance that is the source of deity. The human philosophy was man’s attempt to explain the universe appart from the god’s or the one true God.

Both the poly-theism of the Greek and Romans and the atheism of the philsophers brought people under bondage because they ignored the one true God and the world he created. Before coming to the knowledge of God, we also ignored God. We sought our own purposes as though we were gods ourselves. When Christ came and faith in Christ was generated in us, we no longer abide in enslavement to the former principles weather to the Law or to the non-deities.

Let us believe in Christ as our rightousness because he fulfilled the Law both in his obedience as well as its purpose.

Jesus’ Prayer for Protection on Those He Sends into the World

After his recounting that all the father gave the Son has been kept except the “son of destruction,” Jesus now assures the disciples that he is going to the Father and does not focus on his departure. It was a joyful thought that he would once again enjoy the position he had with the Father and he speaks these things “in the world” or in the ears of the disciples so that they would know that his departure is ultimately a good thing though painful for a while. This joy that Jesus experienced is something he desired the disciples to experience as well.

Jesus is not leaving the disciples alone, however. He is giving them God’s word. The have God’s word is a great value. It also separates those who love God from those who hate him. In fact the connection is that those who hate God hate those who belong to God specifically because they are not like the world but will be like God. God’s reflection is seen in those who belong to him and the Word is the mechanism whereby God instills his image in his people. In short, the world hates the disciples because their values and philosophy and way of life is not like the world but like God.

Even though we are not of this world, Jesus does not pray we are taken out of the world but are left in the world. The reason they are left is that Jesus is sending them into the world to be salt and light. Jesus prays, however, that in the world his disciples would be protected from the evil one. The devil hates God and by extension hates the saints who belong to him. Satan empowers the world and Jesus prays that Satan’s work would not overcome the disciples.

Let us pray that as the Father glorifies himself in Christ, let us also glorify God through Christ.

Galatians: Being Under Guardianship

I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father.

Galatians 4:1-2

Paul illustrates his point made in chapter 3 that, in the progress of revelation, the Law was given to Israel, but it was not the final revelation. It was a master that held captive those to whom it was given until faith would be revealed (Galatians 3:23-24.) The coming of Jesus and justification by faith was what the Law was pointing to, but from the perspective of the Mosaic covenant, was still in the future.

The Law then was to point to the coming faith and revealed the true need of humanity just as the guardian in pre-modern times took care of and instructed the children of the master. Several aspects of the law reveal the deepest need of the human condition: sin, the rebellion against the rule of God over all aspects of human life, brings consequences appropriate of the disobedience. In Romans, Paul summarizes that “the wages of sin is death.” (Romans 3:23.) The law, in all of its goodness was never meant to be the purveyor of salvation, but to point to both the need and the coming salvation. Even the sacrifical system spoke to the coming need of a more permanent sacrifice since the daily and annual sacrifices never came to an end because they were satisfactory forever. Rather, the sacrifices continues because they could not cleanse the concencience of sin or remove the guilt; sacrifice can only remind the bearer of their failures.

However, where the law was unable to bring salvation, it was able to point to where salvation would come. That is why Paul uses the ancient cultural practice of an heir and their guardianship. There would be a day where the father gives to the son authority over the household, but until then, was in bondage to the guardian even though he is the son. The coming date in which the law would end its relationship as a guardian is when Christ came and faith in him being the end to which the law was pointing.

Looking back at Christ’s redemption by his death, we first see our need of a savior when we look at God’s law and see that we are deficient in keeping it. We do not love God as we ought and, left to ourselves, will seek to please ourselves instead of Him. Once we recognize our rebellion, we can now turn to Christ and see that our rebellion and the infinite offence we made against God can now be settled in Christ by faith in his cross-work alone.

Galatians: Children Under a Tutor

I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything,

Galatians 4:1 (ESV)

The modern western world does not emphasize the role of heirs as previous generation did. In the first century of the Roman world, the wealthy and powerful would pass on their status to their children especially to the first born male of the household. However, there was no status in the household afforded to the children. They no different in status that the slafes of the household though he would eventually inherit all that belonged to his father.

In the Galatian context, Paul illustrates that God’s previous revelation of the Law given through Moses was to train the nation of Israel. The nation needed a tutor to instruct them on the nature of God; specifically his rightousness and how that righteousness translates into personal relationships between the individual and God and between the individual and others.

Just as the child of the master would mature and become the inheritor and master of the hoursehold, the people of God go from needing the Law to needing the savior who fulfilled the requirements of the Law.

Helping Kids Grow

This past semester, I have not been able to participate in the kids group ministry at my church due to obligations that came up this semester. However, I am now taking the time to think through “why?” we expend so much energy into these kids. Over the past couple years we as a leadership team have thought though both the why and how of the kids group. One of the things that I must constantly remind myself is that These kids are created in God’s image and our purpose is not to simply control behavior: our goal is to present them to Christ!

The gospel must be the central theme for the kids group. Everything must revolve around opportunities to live out the gospel before the kids and point the kids to Christ. Looking back over my childhood when I was going through kids group, my generation had a significant impact from our parents. This is something that I see missing in the particular generation to which I minister. However, in spite of this, I believe we can have effective ministry because the Spirit is really the most important factor.

Fully recognizing the role and work of the Spirit, we also try to organize the time with the kids to present the raw material (e.g. Scripture) which the Spirit uses. My generation was generally submissive to authority (especially our parents) and thus we were under control by the leaders with little effort – relatively speaking. The current generation does not recognize authority and the methods of control used on my generation really do not work. We try to overcome this difficulty by purposefully structuring our time.

We also give incentives to the kids for good behavior, but at the end of the day we have concluded that investing our lives one-on-one, as much as possible, is what God has called us to do. We can spend our entire time trying to teach good manners, obedience, Bible verses, or silly/serious songs, which are good things in their own right, but without that personal influence on the kids we do not feel our efforts will matter in light of eternity.

Musing on Christ’s Preeminence

One of my favorite New-Testament passages is Colossians 1:15-20. In this section of the letter, Paul emphasizes the place Christ has within God’s plan. My friend asked me a question about the phrase “that in all things, He [Jesus] might have the preeminence.” Some translations use the phrase “first place” to describe the position of Christ in this section. The question boils down to this: should Christ just be the first place in a list of many other priorities? or does this passage seem to indicate something else?

The only other time this word “preeminence” is used in the New Testament is in the third letter of John. There, Diotrephes apparently refused to accept some letters from John and did not recognize John’s apostolic authority. On top of all this, he refused to “welcome the brothers” and excommunicates those who would accept them. This man was verbally abusive against John and his cohort. The primary description that John uses for this man is that he “likes to put himself first” which is sometimes translated “loves the first place.”

Diotrephes was consumed with himself. The only priority he had was making himself prominent in the church to which he ministered.

In contrast, what Paul argues is that Christ is the all consuming focus of the Christian. Since God made Christ the central focus of His plan to reconcile all things to Himself it stands to reason that Christians would do well to make God’s priorities their own. So, instead of Christ being the first of many priorities, Christ actually provides the foundation for all other priorities. The question I can ask myself related to this are:

  • How does a priority in my life fit with God’s priority?
  • How do my priorities find their resolution in Christ?
  • Do I conduct my life consistent to what God has revealed about Jesus?

I pray that I make Jesus my focus or the lens through which I filter every aspect of my life in contrast to seeing Jesus as only one part of it.

Thoughts on Corporate Prayer

prayerThough Wednesday nights are typically assigned as a prayer meeting in certain “Baptist” churches, the Sunday morning gathering may contain very little substantial corporate prayer. As a personal observation, there was a time when I dreaded being called on to pray at random by the preacher. The fear did not come because I did not want to pray, but that I was not prepared to pray at that moment. In search for a coherent thought, I would stammer and give the most general of prayers: “Lord, thank you for the message. Help us to obey it. Amen.”

I do think there is a simple way in order to press upon a congregation the importance and power of prayer. One way is to elevate prayer to a key part of the worship service. This can be first exemplified by the pastor since he often has opportunity to pray. Simply taking the time before hand and plan out the opening prayer in stead of allowing it to be an impromptu exercise can go a long way to teaching others to pray. Church history is full of men who wrote prayers: the contemporary church can learn a lot from those prayers and perhaps even write its own.

A second way to encourage good corporate prayer is by taking out the element of surprise. Some churches call on men and women of the church to offer up prayers. Often this is done impromptu and the person who is called on to pray may not have been prepared to pray at that time and offer up a well meaning but distracted prayer. Perhaps the worship leader can let the person who will be offering the prayer know a week ahead of time. One practice that was helpful in one church I attended as a teenager was that the scripture reading for that service was assigned prior to the actual reading. The negative side was that the assignment was only about 10 minutes before the reading, but it’s a good step none the less.

If churches are serious about the place of prayer – a proposition that I believe and accept but have not articulated here – they will take the time to think ahead and plan out the place of prayer in the service. We know that Sunday is just around the corner and that prayers will be made – should’t we be prepared for them?

Working through things indifferent

Each theological tradition deals with adiaphora in their own way, but each individual must also work through dealing with issues that people often disagree over. The basic concept of indifferent things is areas of life which are neither moral or immoral, but may be enjoyed or not enjoyed by an individual. Though I do not attempt in this post to speak authoritatively on the issue, I desire to lay out the framework I use to work though the issues of life that may not be directly addressed by scripture.

So, how do I work through the issues? First, I must determine if the issue I am working through truly is an indifferent thing. My initial questions are these:

  1. Is the issue I am working through directly condemned or commended in scripture? This is the easy part: if it is condemned then I have the obligation to avoid it and if it is commended (commanded) then I have the obligation to follow through on scripture’s precepts.
  2. Does scripture speak to similar issues and what is the reasoning behind why scripture speaks to a situation? For example, scripture has much to say about the body and before I simply relegate something the the category of “indifferent,” I want to at least look at it’s effect on my body. This is only an example area as I will also look at the mental and emotional effects of the situation as well. This is also a double edged sword since obedience to a moral imperative can lead to physical, mental, and emotional harm.
  3. Does this issue enhance or erode my Spiritual walk with Christ? If participating in this issue is harmful to my relationship with Christ then it is immoral for me. While this is somewhat subjective since what may hinder one believer may not hinder another, I would put this as a matter of faith:

If the issue truly is an indifferent thing, then I have determined that it is neither moral or moral for me to participate in; however, this is not the final determiner of weather or not I will participate in something. Once I have determined a thing indifferent, there is a different set of questions I must ask. The first set dealt with the morality vs. immorality of something. The second set deals with its effect on the people around me.

  1. Am I under authority where this matter is determined by the higher authority? Employer dress codes or standard of personal grooming, rental agreements, or any other area in which one is under authority of another are indifferent things, but since employment and contacts are authorities over me then I should not have a problem submitting to their guidelines.
  2. How does this affect my relationships around me? I would love for people to have the same freedoms in Christ that I do to enjoy the world around me, but I cannot allow a thing indifferent to break a relationship in Christ. Again, the issue is an indifferent issue for me – but may not be for another brother. Christian charity seems to put me in a position to not cause another to stumble over something that I do not stumble over.

If I can honestly answer the question that the issue I am working through is indifferent and that is will not affect the relationships around me, then I can participate and do all to the glory of God!

There is one caveat that I would like to address. In certain *fundamentalist* circles, there are some who try to pull the “that offends me” card on a lot of these issues – weather it is on music styles, tattoos, clothing styles, or any other non-essential issue. One must discern between those who have thought through the issues arriving at a different conclusion than I have and those who are simply acting on poorly reasoned, reactionary, and/or manipulative motives. The former are those who I would “not eat the meat” for because they are in danger of acting in unbelief because of my boldness. The latter, however, do not really care about being obedient to God but rather desire to subject other people under their authority.

I will try to deal with the passages dealing with “indifferent things” next week.

Worship Part 3

Bryan Chapel in his book Christ Centered Worship give a good overview of the philosophy of worship, but he concludes with historical models of worship liturgy used by ancient and contemporary Christianity. One of the values of studying the liturgy of the past is that knowing the reason behind a liturgy actually aids in the worship of the believer. This does not necessarily need to be done didactically through a class on liturgy. Rather, a body can teach the reasons for its own liturgy by using the liturgy as its own self-documenting service.

For example, one can walk through the Luthern liturgy and explain each element of the service, but a Luthern service is typically laid out so that each element describes what is happening.

One missing aspect in the liturgy of some conservative churches is a well thought out and logical liturgy that does more than just lead up to the “preaching” time. Thoughtful liturgy is an incredible teaching tool for the edification of the body if churches will take the time to think though it.

The churches I have in mind which have a weak liturgy are minimalist in regards to worship: only those things explicitly demanded by scripture are suitable for corporate worship. Though not a bad starting point, these churches tend to downplay some aspects of worship since how explicit does something have to be in Scripture before it is acceptable?

Corporate pray, as an example, is a lost art in many conservative congregations. I actually cannot remember the last time a prepared prayer was read before the congregation that thoughtfully praised God for all his worth in clear, concise, and understandably deep language. Paul, wrote out his prayers to the churches he corresponded with: reading Paul’s letters is perhaps the closest some get to a corporate prayer!

My point is not about prayer – perhaps I’ll write a post about that later. My point is that a good liturgy teaches while it leads the congregation into fellowship with God. Prayers, music, songs, readings, and sermons are all elements of liturgy, but they way they are stung together to lead to a fuller understanding of God’s revelation of Himself is the practical value of a liturgy.

Perhaps we need to rethink through how three songs, a couple prayers, and a sermon leads us into fellowship with our Savior.

Heart Conference 2013

 

The annual Northland Heart Conference began this week on Tuesday and has been a huge encouragement thus far. The theme for this year, The Sufficiency of the Gospel, focuses on the two aspects of salvation: justification and sanctification. You can view the general session from the streaming site here.

If you get a chance, visit the site and watch the messages from some great speakers whom God has used to declare his word in simple and clear ways.

Tuesday’s message was a great sermon from Dan Davey on the suffering servant of Isaiah 53. As I listened to the text I was reminded of how great a task Christ had in purchasing salvation for us. I stood in awe of the awesome suffering servant. Praise God my sin was placed on Christ who is the sufficient one for my relationship with God.