Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Remain free - Galatians 5:1

"It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery." (Galatians 5:1)
The Greek word translated here as "subject" means more to be entangled or snared. It literally means to "hold in." Darby translates this verse, "Christ has set us free in freedom; stand fast therefore, and be not held again in a yoke of bondage." (Galatians 5:1 Darby) When we come under the law we are held in bondage by more than our submission to it. The law entangles us and enslaves us by its demands and its decrees. In time our participation in the law becomes more than voluntary slaver. The law holds us in by its subjection of our lives. The law is a yolk from which we cannot escape until we have fulfilled every jot and tittle of its commands.

God did not save us that we might be brought back into bondage. Jesus did not set us free only to re-enslave us to the law and to religion. We have been set free and God desires us to remain free. Any teaching that would seek to restore us to bondage is not from God nor in keeping with the message we have received from Him. He has set us free and He desires us to remain free.

Often the challenge of our Christian walk is not to become free, for Christ has already done that for us, but to remain free, which takes vigilance and perseverance on our part. The personal price of freedom is often very low for often others have already paid the price for us. For example, living in the USA we enjoy the freedoms that others paid dearly to provide for us. They paid the price for what we now freely experience. However, the personal cost of remaining free can often be very high. The cost of maintaining our national freedoms often requires personal vigilance, citizenship, and determination not to relinquish our freedoms for what might seem an easier life. Today there are many who would gladly surrender their freedom for the ease of having others take care of them and manage their lives.

There was a time when the nation of Israel lived as slaves in Egypt and they longed to be free. So God sent Moses as their deliver and, through a series of signs and miracles, Pharaoh was persuaded to let them go. However, as they left Egypt and proceeded into the wilderness, times got difficult and their freedom began to require work and effort on their part. As they looked back they began to long for their days of ease even if it meant slavery. They retorted to Moses, "Is it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? Why have you dealt with us in this way, bringing us out of Egypt? Is this not the word that we spoke to you in Egypt, saying, 'Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians'? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness." (Exodus 14:11-12) and "Who will give us meat to eat? We remember the fish which we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers and the melons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic, but now our appetite is gone. There is nothing at all to look at except this manna." (Numbers 11:4-6) When times got tough they were quick to surrender their freedom for ease, even if it meant bondage, Josephus writes,
"That they ought to reason thus: that God delays to assist them, not because he has no regard to them, but because he will first try their fortitude, and the pleasure they take in their freedom." Josephus, The Antiquities of the Jews. 3.5.4 vs 19
Our Christian walk will test us, but at those times let us not look back and long for the past but look forward to the promises ahead. Let us keep our eyes fixed on the prize. Let us not surrender our future and our freedom for the supposed ease of our old ways. The things we have gained are far more precious then the things we have left behind. Let us not look back but press forward. Let us not only be free, but live in a way to remain free.

David Robison

Friday, June 26, 2015

Whose your mama? - Galatians 4:22-31

"For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the bondwoman and one by the free woman. But the son by the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and the son by the free woman through the promise. This is allegorically speaking, for these women are two covenants: one proceeding from Mount Sinai bearing children who are to be slaves; she is Hagar. Now this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free; she is our mother... And you brethren, like Isaac, are children of promise. But as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so it is now also. But what does the Scripture say? ... So then, brethren, we are not children of a bondwoman, but of the free woman." (Galatians 4:22-31)
I was amazed the first time I read this scripture. In a few short scriptures, Paul makes the leap from two sons, to two mothers, to two mountains, to two covenants, to two destinies. As a western man, my mind is trained in logic, historical realities, and sequential reasoning. I read the scriptures and receive what they say in their literal and historical context. However, not all the world thinks the same way that western men and women do. The Oriental mind, especially in Paul's day, thought differently and was much more given to speculation and allegorical reasoning and understanding. This is perhaps the greatest example of allegorical reasoning we have in the scriptures.

Paul is saying that our present lives and our destiny are determined by our births, Some are born into bondage; to live a life of bondage to sin and a fruitless attempt to obey the Law as the remedy to that sin. However, others are born free; free from the power of sin and free from any Law necessary to make them free. The difference in these two groups of people are a great as the differences between Issac and Ishmael. One born into freedom and the inheritor of all his father possessed. The other born into servitude and left to himself to make his own way and fortune. These differences are also as great as the difference between the covenant to the Israelites and the New Covenant Jesus came to bring, One serving in bondage to Law; a Law that is holy but never able to make one holy themselves. The other born into freedom that flows from the grace of God in their lives.

So great are the differences between those born into bondage and those born into freedom that we must choose which life we will live. The one born into bondage cannot choose to live in freedom except they first be born again according to the will of God and those born in freedom cannot live a life of slavery without falling from their elevated place of freedom and grace. So what does the scripture say to do? "Cast out the bondwoman and her son. For the son of the bondwoman shall not be an heir with the son of the free woman." (Galatians 4:30) To become free we must make a radical departure from our old life and the things that held us in bondage. To remain free we must hold tight to the things that brought us our freedom. It is incumbent upon us to examine our lives; to identify the remaining vestiges of bondage and to free ourselves from them by the power and grace of God. As long as we live like slaves, we will never know freedom or properly understand and inherit the live of freedom that Jesus came to bring us. Therefore let us be done with all bondage and the things of the old covenant and learn to become children of promise; children of freedom.

David Robison

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Feeling over thinking - Galatians 4:21

"Tell me, you who want to be under law, do you not listen to the law?" (Galatians 4:21)
The Galatians were being deceived by the persuasive words and cunning arguments of those who preached a message of bondage to the law. However, they were also being deceived by their own response to the message. They were responding to the message without really hearing the message. The question Paul asks them is literally, "Do you now hear what was written?" But how can one hear what was written? The issue is not hearing but understanding and that takes rational thought, contemplation, and understanding.

I believe that many of us are hindered in our Christian walk, and even sidetracked at times, because we try to live our Christianity on an emotional level without ever engaging our rational mind. Never stopping to really consider the message, purpose, and will of the life we are living. We float around from one emotion to another, from one experience to another, trying to satisfy some visceral need in our lives but never investing the necessary rational and cognitive thought into the things that really matter. We are like those whom Paul says are, "tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming." (Ephesians 4:14) Perhaps some examples will help us to understand how we often live life on auto-pilot without ever really considering the life we are living.

One of the greatest snares to our advancement in the things of God can be our traditions. Jesus came bringing a new covenant of life but all the Pharisees and religious elite could see was the old way of doing things. They asked Jesus, "Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders?" (Mark 7:5) They were living life according to their traditions without ever stopping to question their traditions, the message of Jesus, and what His message meant for their traditions. Sometimes we must stop long enough to question the old before we can embrace and receive the new. If we will then we may just find out that much of what we do we do because we always have, not because there is any good reason to do it.

Another snare is our sense duty and responsibility. Some people accept the Law because they have a deep seated sense within themselves that their life with God must somehow be formed in discipline, denial, and obedience to some code of morality. None of these things in and of themselves are wrong, but when we live by a misguided since of duty and responsibility it can lead us to a lifestyle that God has not chosen for us. We end up living by what we think is right rather than what is in fact right. When we do we end up living our own version of life and miss out on the life the Jesus has for us.

The third snare is our emotions and a romantic view of life. This could be where, knowing that God loves everybody, we believe that we too must "love" and that our message must always be "positive" with no mention of suffering, sacrifice, or judgment. For us, a life of "love" is built on an emotion of love rather than a true and pure form of love that God displayed when He sent Jesus to live and die for us. This can also be where, because of a romantic ideal we have of Jewish life in the Old Testament, we desire and attempt to be Jewish; living their lifestyle, accepting their symbols, and keeping their feasts. We hold this romantic notion that is often quite different from the actual reality we are trying to emulate. When we live by our emotions we are often subject to the ever switching winds and tossing waves and our lives lack the stability that God came to bring.

The moral of this story is that we must live our lives in truth and with our rational minds. Never afraid to really hear what is being said; never afraid to consider what is really true and how that truth impacts our life. We must live our lives with eyes, and ears, wide open; living with recognition, reason, and understanding.

David Robison

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

False fondness - Galatians 4:17-20

"They eagerly seek you, not commendably, but they wish to shut you out so that you will seek them. But it is good always to be eagerly sought in a commendable manner, and not only when I am present with you. My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you —  but I could wish to be present with you now and to change my tone, for I am perplexed about you. (Galatians 4:17-20)
The Greek word used here for "eagerly seek" literally means to be "zealously affected for." It indicates one who is zealous in their affections and desires for another. It could refer to a lover who has strong amorous feelings towards someone and who zealously desires them and wants them. Paul concurs that there is nothing wrong with someone having zealous fondness towards us, as long as their motives are pure, right, and good. However, in this case, the zealous fondness of the false brethren and the judaizers was extended so that the Galatians would have the same zealous fondness towards them. They sought the Galatians so that the Galatians might seek them. It was a fondness with selfish motives, not with the good of the other in mind.

There are many who will play on our emotions and seek to win us to themselves. They will flatter us and show us attention all in an attempt to secure our affection and loyalty for themselves. This is how we can identify such false brethren and false suitors. If everything they do points back to themselves or requires our loyalty to themselves, then we should run for their motives are not pure.

The man of God, however, does not (or should not) act such. Notice Paul's motives were not selfish but his desire was that Christ would be formed in them. His desire was their affection and loyalty towards Christ, not himself. He desired the best for the Galatians, not the best for himself. Paul understood that, in desiring the best for others, sometimes his zealousness for them would not always be returned in kind. Paul understood that, from time to time, he might have to tell them the truth and tell them things that might be hard for them to hear. In these times, their zealousness towards him would be tested. However, these things did not motivate Paul because his focus was on them, not himself.

Paul's zealousness for the Galatians committed him to the formation of Christ in them, no matter how long that took. The Greek term used here for "again" comes from a word that means to "vibrate" and indicates an oscillating repetition. The Galatians had lost something that had once been theirs, they had taken a few steps backward in the process. However, Paul was not afraid to go back with them and repeat the lessons they had learned; to re-form in them what they had once had yet lost to their false admirers.

Sometimes, being a friend requires us to take a risk. Paul would have rather written this letter with a warm-and-fuzzy feeling to express their mutual love and faith in our Lord. However, the situation required a different "tone" and Paul was not afraid to take the risk in their relationship to say the things that needed to be said. One can only do this when their chief concern is others rather than themselves.

David Robison

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

From friend to enemy - Galatians 4:12-16

"You have done me no wrong; but you know that it was because of a bodily illness that I preached the gospel to you the first time; and that which was a trial to you in my bodily condition you did not despise or loathe, but you received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus Himself. Where then is that sense of blessing you had? For I bear you witness that, if possible, you would have plucked out your eyes and given them to me. So have I become your enemy by telling you the truth?" (Galatians 4:12-16)
Paul once wrote Timothy, "continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them." (2 Timothy 3:14) This was not Paul's first letter to the Galatians. He obviously had written previously to them, warning them to steer clear of the Judaizers and their message, warning them of those false brethren who desired to return them once again to bondage; bondage to the law. However, those who thought to deceive them had convinced them that it was because Paul had been offended by them that he wrote so sternly to them. They had convinced them that Paul's stern warnings were the result of his anger and offense he had toward them, not the result of any true and real concern for them.

Paul writes back to assure them that they had done nothing to hurt or offend him; he was not offended nor writing out of a sense of hurt in their relationship. In fact, Paul reminds them of his first contact with them. He was sick and suffering in his body yet, in his weekend state, he nonetheless preached the Gospel to them which they readily accepted. So much was the love of Paul for them that he would share the truth with them even when he was hurting and in need himself. So much was their love for him that, if they could, they would have given their own eyes for him to relieve him of his pain. Their relationship began with such love and mutual care, how could Paul feel anything but love for them now? Paul is saying, "remember, its me! Nothing has changed. I love you and care for you just as I did in the beginning."

There will always be times in our lives when we need to hear stern things from our friends. The process of maturing often means hearing things we don't want to hear; hearing we are wrong, hearing we need to change, and hearing we need to grow up. At times like that, we need to take stock of who it is who is telling us these things. In the pain of their words we can easily take offense. Worse yet, we can latch onto other people's negative opinions of them to confirm the offense we have taken. However, we need to remember who they are to us; who they have been to us throughout our lives. For those who have loved and cared for us, we need to receive their words in the same manor; as loving and caring. We must not allow our pain to damage or weaken relationships that have been forged in love and care.

How do we gauge our response in this matter? Paul asks, "Where is the sense of blessing you had?" When we have lost our sense of blessing, maybe we have also lost our true perspective of our friends. When we have lost our sense of blessing, maybe we have also lost sight of the love and care of others. We need to lay aside the feeling that others are out to get us or that they are angry and offended at us, and we need to see afresh their love and care for us in their words and actions, even when those words and actions may sting just a bit.

David Robison

Saturday, June 06, 2015

Becoming Gentiles - Galatians 4:12

"I beg of you, brethren, become as I am, for I also have become as you are." (Galatians 4:12)
The problem for the Galatian church was not idolatry or polytheism but legalism. Those false brethren who had infiltrated the church were seeking to return the church to the ways of Judaism; to re-institute the law and to make the Galatian believers act and behave as Jews. They had taught observance of the old Jewish customs including their dietary requirements and the observance of days, weeks, and feasts. None of which, in and of themselves, were bad but it was a distraction to the believers and it turned their focus, affection, and trust away from God and onto external conformity to the Law. They sought their life and salvation in legalistic rigidity rather than in the simplicity of being sons and daughters of Christ.

For some Christians, the Jewish roots of their faith has fascinated them to the point where they romanticize everything Jewish. Their dress, their symbols, and their religious observances. They collect prayer shawls, shofars, and even keep the feasts with their families. It is as if they are trying to become Jewish themselves believing that by doing such they will grow closer to God and understand Him in some new way. They look to the ancient ways for revelation rather than to the Spirit who have been given to us to teach us all things.

Paul's cry to the Galatians is, "Why are you trying to become Jewish? Look at me! Do I look like a Jew anymore? Do I not live like one of the gentiles too? I'm trying to leave Judaism behind, why are you trying to embrace it?"

If Paul was here with us today he would counsel us with the same words. The goal of Christianity is not to become Jewish but to become children of God. God has made it clear that the old ways are over and done with. Jesus came to open up for us a new way to God. Paul reminds us that, "Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes." (Romans 10:4) And the writer of Hebrews testifies that "we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh." (Hebrews 10:19-20) So why do we persist in pursuing God by those outdated means which never brought anyone closer to God nor made them clean enough to stand before God? God has put those times behind Him and so must we!

One final thought, do we have boldness to speak as Paul did? Paul was implying that the Galatians should follow his manor of life. He had begun to live as a Gentile and so should they. But what about our lives? Are we living in a way that is worthy of being imitated? Paul says, "Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ." (1 Corinthians 11:1 NKJV) Can we say the same thing with the same confidence? If not, then let us first look to ourselves before we attempt to guide and direct others. Let us live our lives in a way that others may imitate us and share in the blessings we have found in God.

David Robison

Friday, June 05, 2015

The church calendar - Galatians 4:8-11

"However at that time, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those which by nature are no gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again? You observe days and months and seasons and years. I fear for you, that perhaps I have labored over you in vain." (Galatians 4:8-11)
Paul understood that the Galatians had not lapsed into idolatry, into serving another god, but they had turned to serve those things that weren't, by nature, even gods. Their error was not that they served another god but that they gave their service to, and invested their hopes into, dead practices of religion without any reference to god, or a god, at all. When we serve religion, we are not serving God but rather are placing our hope and trust in a pattern of behavior that we hope will save us and endure us towards God. However, if we have the Father, what need do we have for dead religious practices?

Paul speaks of the "worthless elemental things." These are the well-ordered and regular practices  of people whom find in them some since of solace, hope for betterment and redemption, and acceptance among their piers and, perhaps, even God. The key ideas are regular and orderliness. That is why Paul references the adherence to religious observances such as days, months, and season. Most religions have a set order of days, feasts, and observances that happen with regularity and in order. Sadly, the Christian church too has adopted much the same approach to religion. In some orthodox branches of Christianity their church calendar is almost completely filled with observances, holy days, days of remembrance, and feast days. As much as we might enjoy the orderliness and regularity of these observances, they do nothing to help us, save us, or draw us nearer to God Himself. They are, in the end, just dead religion. Perhaps useful for the one who is lost and still does not know God, but useless for the child of God who is growing in the knowledge and understanding of God.

Paul warns us that, when our focus and attention turn to the "worthless elemental things," then we stop growing and the grace and truth of God in our lives becomes "in vain"; we render the work and grace of Christ null and void in our lives. These things once filled our attentions but now is the time to leave them behind and press on to know God through our relationship with Him as sons and daughters.

One final note. Paul speaks of being "known by God." How could God not have know us? How could there ever have been a time when God did not know us intimately and in every minute detail? It seems to me that the difference is not so much God know us but us knowing that God knows us. The Greek word for knowing could also be translated as perceiving. When we come to Christ we not only come to know God but we also open our lives up to Him, to be known by Him, and to let our lives, good, bad, or indifferent, to be perceived by Him. When God opens up His life to us and we open up our lives to Him, what need have we further of dead religion? When you have intimate relationships what more need have you of artificial efforts to achieve what you already have? Let us strip away all that remains of the past and of the beggarly things of our former lives that accomplished for us nothing, and learn the simplicity of being sons and daughters of God.

David Robison.

Monday, June 01, 2015

In the fullness of time - Galatians 4:1-7

"Now I say, as long as the heir is a child, he does not differ at all from a slave although he is owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by the father. So also we, while we were children, were held in bondage under the elemental things of the world. But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son... that we might receive the adoption as sons. Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, 'Abba! Father!' Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God." (Galatians 4:1-7)
In referencing our progression from childhood, to adulthood, to being the inheritor of all things, Paul is not referring to our natural growth but the growth of the human race. It would be wrong to interpret the words of Paul to mean that we must all start under the law and then, only when mature, enter into the grace that is in Christ Jesus. In our present age we are all born into the age of grace and grace is available to all of us regardless of our stage of development or maturity. Rather, Paul is referring to the growth of the divine revelation among mankind.

The promise given to Abraham was given almost two thousand years before the birth of Christ. For tow thousand years mankind lived as minors in reference to the promise of God. The promise was ours but was kept on account for us against a set date when the Father would make it available to us. Though we were to inherit the promise, at the time we differed not from other humans who were in bondage to the "elemental things of the world." This phrase refers to those things that have been set in "order" like an "orderly" march of an army. Such things make up a "common morality" that most nations and people ascribe to and which regulate our lives and our relationships. Such morality that would condemn theft, murder, lying, and many forms of violence has common agreement in many societies and cultures as it is easily seen and understood by the "orderly" nature of the world around us.

The law expresses such a morality and, for nearly two thousand years, we were held in bondage to its commands. The Law was to us "guardians" and "managers" watching over us and regulating our behavior until the day that we might be given what was promised. However, now having received the promise we no longer need those guardians and managers. Through God's promise we have been give the grace and strength to live up to a higher standard of morality and no longer need the law and its bondage to lesser things. We are now full-fledged daughters and sons of the Most High. All that He has, and all that He has promised in the past, is now ours in abundance. We are now living in the fullness of time.

However, many still live in bondage; as slaves to an old way of living. They have yet to experience the adoption as sons and daughters; sons and daughters of God. They have yet to receive His Spirit into their hearts; the Spirit that bears witness with our spirit and empowers us to live godly lives. The transition from bondage to sonship all begins with our relationship with Jesus. If we will repent and believe the Gospel, believing in Jesus, then we too will make the transition to sons and daughters and will experience with the rest of God's family what it means to be the inheritors of all things.

David Robison