Monday, June 25, 2007

"The Law" and Christians

Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. Therefore the law was our disciplinarian [pedagagos] until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.

Paul wrote this letter to the Galatian followers of Jesus (the word "Christians" hadn't come into vogue yet) around the year 50 or so. They were having some trouble accepting diversity of opinion on some issues. The problem was, there were non-Jews becoming disciples, and some of the Jewish disciples felt that in order to become disciple of Jesus (who was, after all, a Jew himself) one had first to become a Jew (and follow all the necessary rituals and regulations... including, not insignificantly, circumcision... yikes!). And at the same time, some of the non-Jew thought all that Jewish stuff was rubbish, silly, and an affront to civilized sensibilities.

So Paul writes to them and says they're both being stupid. (Ok, he doesn't use the word "stupid," but he does use the word "foolish," which in church is probably a lot worse than @$$-hole on the street.) The "law" is still valuable and honored, but it is not to be worshiped. Paul describes the law as a pedagagos, which in Greek was a slave whose job it was to supervise and guide the children of the house. The slave was ultimately a servant of the children (owned by their family and working in the children's best interests), but while growing up the children were to obey the pedagagos. (There is an obvious linguistic connection between the Greek word and our modern English word: pedagogy - to teach.) But when the children grow up, they are no longer bound by the rule of the slave, but can still value in principle the instruction and guidance provided by their former disciplinarian. We were bound by the slave until Jesus came and gave us the new, more mature law: Love. (Isn't this a fantastic analogy? I wonder what Paul would say today, with illegal immigrant nannies as rough contemporary equivalents to pedagagoi.)

The point is, disciples of Jesus are not bound by the specific laws of the Hebrew Bible, because - as valuable as they were for guidance before - now we are guided by the supreme law: Love. We are not held to the strictures of the Hebrew law - and we cannot bind others by those strictures either. As a community of disciples of Jesus, we are all bound by one law: Love, as revealed in the life and person of Jesus. Paul is chastising the Galatian Judaizers (people who believed one must become a Jew in order to become a Christian) for lifting up a legalistic code above the revelation of Love in Christ. Paul is also laying the smack down on those belligerent Gentiles who refuse to value and honor the revelation (however antiquated) that was given earlier. We must continue to respect the slave who tutored us, while remembering that we are no longer bound to its unforgiving, black-and-white proscriptions.

This is REALLY important for Christians to remember - especially those who consider the Bible to be the Word of God, and use it to beat up on people who disagree with them. As Christians, we can not go to the "Old Testament" laws and demand obedience to them as a test of fellowship or faith or communion in Christ. We are not bound by those laws any longer. We must respect the principles revealed in those laws, but be ultimately subject to the law revealed in Christ: Love.

As Christians, we cannot point to Levitical verses and condemn homosexuality wholesale. We cannot cite scriptures and exclude the ministry of individuals who are co-habitating in committed relationship. We cannot look at the prophetic writings and sneer at someone just because they vote Republican (and in so doing seem to negate every prophetic impulse in the scriptures). We cannot look to the narratives of herem (holy war) and justify wars of aggression and occupation. We can look to those texts and seek insight, but must in the end examine the issue under the rubric of love.


We Christians are bound to others in love, even with our enemies, but also with those who are merely different than us. We can evaluate actions and beliefs, positions and practices; but we cannot look to the Bible at face-value and still remain faithful to Christ. Being a disciple means we read everything through Christ, through goggles of love.

More importantly, just as for the Galatian churches, we cannot exclude someone from communion based on any rubric other than love. Is what they are doing being done out of love? Will their actions deepen and broaden their love, and the love of those they come into contact? Are they demonstrating the radically inclusive and subversive love that Jesus himself demonstrated? (And I wonder if we applied that rubric to ourselves, how many of us would still qualify for full communion in the church.)

People who read the Bible at face-value are not reading it as disciples of Christ. People who use the Bible to beat up on others, to divide or separate people, are not using it as disciples of Christ. As Christians, we are bound by the messy, difficult, confusing, complicated law of Love. It would be easier to be bound by the slave - letting someone else take responsibility for answering yea or nay. But we can never go back. Once we've been awakened by the revelation of Christ, the world will never seem as black and white.

Thank God for that.

(Excerpted and adapted from this Sunday's sermon.)

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  • Great thoughts Christian. I also find that people use 1 Corinthians 6 to beat up homosexuals. This I find to be in error as well. I believe "effeminate" as used in the KJV does not specifically translate to mean homosexual. Effeminate is the absense of vigorous qualities or a man whose behavior, appearance or speech is considered to be similar to that which is associate with women; which does not automatically translate to "homosexual". Kind of makes me wonder what the original manuscript said.

    Sorry, I kind of got off the subject of love. It upsets me greatly that christians are so willing to go to the extreme to exclude a part of society but I guess this has always been a part of the human condition. As long as this attitude is prevalent, Zion is still as far away as it ever was.

    I recently wrote on this very subject. I guess it must be in the air. In my article "Love Is Fulfillment of the Law", I made this comment: "When acting out of love for God and others we, without even trying, are fulfilling our duty under the law."

    As for me, if loving someone means that I will not end up with my reward, then I guess someone needs to call Wal-Mart and let them know that I'll be buying them out of sunscreen and ice packs.

    You have a great ministry sir!

    By Blogger Mike, at 9:56 PM  

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