Sunday, March 25, 2007

Stories that have to be told

Thoughts on pastoral care, Paul's way.

Some stories have to be told. When Paul wrote to the Corinthians he felt compelled (in 2 Corinthians 8) to tell the story of the Macedonian giving. Believers in extreme poverty who begged to have the priviledge of giving, even beyond their means. And the story of what these real Christians did is recorded in Scripture. This isn't done to draw attention to them, but rather (2 Cor 8v1) to tell of the amazing grace of God to these believers.

In Galatians 2 things are a bit different. Another real life story is told. This time, The One with the Apostle and the Bacon Sandwich... Paul and Peter had previously stood united in the gospel - in full agreement. But now Paul faces off against Peter because Peter has become a false teacher, leading even Barnabas astray. In Galatian terms he is condemned. Condemned not just for false teaching, but because his actions are cross-denying. Without the cross, all you have is condemnation. Peter is a silent false-teacher - his actions denying the gospel. He is quite simply, out of step with the gospel, out of step with everything he knows and loves.

There's every reason to think that Peter did repent. No doubt he was broken in tears as Paul took him to the heart of the issue. I say this firstly because 2 Peter is not a letter written by a man who denies the cross, but rather by someone who knows how much believers need to keep on remembering it. Secondly because Paul seeks repentance from the Galatians by showing that they are behaving just like Peter did.

What Paul does with Peter is a model for all pastoral care. Some people look at Galatians and say he's a bit harsh, dropping the normal thanksgiving at the start to call down curses on false teachers, and calling his readers fools. But what shines through is his passion for the gospel, and for his readers life. He stands up for the gospel for their sake, knowing that without it they have no life at all. And the standards he applies to others he applies to himself. His is a great example.

If we follow Paul here then we're to walk people slowly and lovingly back to the Cross of Christ. Step by step Paul reminds Peter of all the foundation things he holds dearest - about how to get right with God, about what the law (that he's now re-imposing does and doesn't do), about the new life they have, not of law but living in the Son of God (in Union with Christ). Peter is shown that his actions are saying something his tongue never would, that Christ died for no purpose. That the cross was meaningless. He would never say that explicitly. Of all people who ever lived, Peter knew that the cross was meaningful - and yet his behaviour was saying otherwise. Peter needed this deep care from Paul.

Lifestyle is a matter of justification, in the sense that the way we live tells of how we think we get right with God. And Peter's is saying - not by grace, but by law... not by the cross but by the way I live. Paul takes him slowly back to the heart of the matter... before promptly dropping the story without resolving it....

Why tell the story in the first place? Why draw attention to Peter's failure? Why record it in Scripture so that every Christian who ever lives will know about it?
Because the story needs to be told to the Galatians who have fallen into Peter's error also. Like we might. None of us is immune from these apparently small slips that in reality are deadly. They, like Peter, need to return to the heart of the matter... back to the words that Paul had first preached to them... the gospel of Christ and him Crucified. And when Paul speaks of The Cross, it's evident that this includes talk of the abolition of slavery to religious zealotry and idols, of his loving, sacrificial substitution (dying for us), Abraham, God's promises in Jesus, of the Holy Spirit and of global blessings for the peoples of the world by hearing with faith...

We need a fully orbed, widely applied vision of the cross. Pastoral care that is worth doing, walks people back to the foot of the cross where they can see clearly. The story of the cross is the one we need to be telling.

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