Thursday, September 23, 2010

Gospel People are Refreshing Company

What do you do with the tricky bit in the middle of Galatians - you know, chapter 4:8-5:1, the bit with the naughty allegorical bit? Chew on it and enjoy the sweet taste of the horizontal implications and effects of the gospel.

Q1 What does it mean to be a Christian? (4:8-11)
Paul gives a wonderful description of being a Christian here. Knowing God. Better than that, being known by God. A mutual relational knowing. The Triune God is the lover who adopts us in his son as sons, who pours his Spirit into our hearts crying Abba Father - he knows us!

Tragically the Galatians have turned, or returned, to slavery. They're eagerly embracing what Paul describes as devotion to not-gods, to worthless and elementary principles, to remembering days and months and seasons. And in case they didn't see it's misery he calls it slavery. But, they're not quite returning to what they used to be enslaved to, but it's very similar. Paul equates their old pagan idolatry with their new law keeping.

As Paul, perplexed, pleads with the Galatians we get a picture of how gospel-people relate, and how non-gospel relate. Behaviour reveals belief....

Q2 How do non-gospel people relate to others? (4:12-5:1)
See the false teachers. They make much of the Galatians - for themselves, to shut them out from Paul. It feels great to hang around the false teachers - they make you feel special when they're around, but it quickly fades, just as the joy they had when Paul came with the gospel has now been extinguished.

In the latter part of the chapter we see that these Slavery Teachers are not just manipulators but mockers, they persecute the Free people. One moment they're sweet talking you, the next they bully and deride with their abrasive and harsh attitudes. They bite and devour God's people with their silver tongues and their behind-your-back critiques.

The whole allegory thing is to show that the Slave Teachers are like Ishmael and Sinai whereas Gospel-People are like Isaac - children of promise. The Slavery Teachers relate to Gospel-People like Ishamel to Isaac and they're best avoided and cast out. The company of Slavery Teachers drains the gospel-life out of the party, so why would you invite them in?

Q3 How do gospel people relate to others? (4:12-5:1)
The gospel does something different.

"Without Christ I am a fish out of water;
with Christ I am in an ocean of love.
~Sadhu Sundar Singh
The gospel gave the Galatians joy when they received it, a perceivable experiential sense of blessing, it made them care for Paul in his sickness, even self-sacrificially. The same gospel gives Paul a motherly anguish of child-birth not for his own reputation but for their growth in Christ - they're life in Christ as Christ is formed in them.

Gospel people aren't manipulators or mockers, they're motherly in their care and love for people. People of the gospel are refreshing to be with, and I want to be one of those kind of people - pray for me! Someone who knows God, better still - is known by God, and longs for others to know God too, to know the freedom that Christ set us free to enjoy. When you spend time with a gospel person you leave knowing you're better off for being with them, better off because of Christ.


  1. Lovely stuff! (especially the bit in bold)
    will def pray for you.

    Last sentence is a blinder and very true :)

  2. Imagine a church full of such people... a people so marked by Christ that they're warm and generous and attractive.

  3. Like.

    But this is high talk without some real talk, so what actually are the most damaging manipulative strategies that we stray into?

  4. Really good question Tom!

    At risk of remaining high and not real, one area is surely whenever we talk to people to in ways that are meant to show off how great we think we are, or to make them feel rubbish about themselves (by comparison). Playing comparisons and insider-outsider games.

    Another is some kind of false-encouragement that actually just puffs people up, making them love us for a while because we seem to really appreciate them - but is really just playing games with them. And in this way the manipulation is really just a form of mockery...

    What comes to mind when you think of this?