Opening Prayer from Colossians 1:9-14
We begin with Paul’s prayer for the members of the Colossian church:
May [you] be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may lead lives worthy of [Jesus Christ], fully pleasing to God, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God. May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from God’s glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to God, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. God has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of God’s beloved Jesus Christ, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. Amen
Paul’s Lament for the people and himself
We take another step of “meeting Paul again for the first time.” We begin with a lament – first, Paul’s lament for the Galatian people falling for a false gospel, and second, Paul’s lament about his own failures. After a graciously greeting the Galatian people, Paul laments:
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are confusing you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you, let that one be accursed! (Galatians 1:6-8)
Paul is never slow to praise and criticize the communities he loves so much and is so committed to. But he is not just a critic of others. Paul has great confidence in his own experience and inner authority in Christ AND is aware of his own fallibility and failure to live fully in Christ. In his Letter to the Romans, Paul laments:
I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. ….For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do…. Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:15-19, 24-25)
Paul’s Answer and Admonition – Freedom in Christ
Paul knows that no matter how learned and gifted and self-assured he is he cannot follow Christ, that is be in Christ on his own merit. He is further convinced that if he cannot do it we cannot do it on our own either. So he wants to set us right – to let the gospel of Jesus Christ set us right. Remember no gospel has yet been written. Paul is dependent on his encounter with Christ through the stories of Jesus from the oral tradition and from his own mystical experience.
We heard portions of Paul’s Letter to the Galatians – the emerging church in Galatia in what is now inland Turkey. He is writing this Letter to the Galatians in about 57 CE (or possibly as early as 48 CE: see Richard Hays intro to Galatians NIB).
Yesterday afternoon some of us helped Rex Rempel celebrate 40 years of life. On the way home from Rex’s celebration I was listening to Garrison Keillor’s “Prairie Home Companion” on NPR. One of the songs was about love and freedom. We all strive and struggle for love and freedom.
Love and freedom are the heart of what Paul is telling us to be in Christ means. I want to focus here on freedom that is so central to Paul’s word to the Christians in Galatia.
Freedom is one of the human spirit’s deepest longings. We are seeing the powerful and painful birthing of freedom in human spirit all over the Middle East today.
Poems are written and songs are sung, political systems are developed and wars waged for the claims and causes of freedom. Often these causes and claims to freedom are tragically misdirected and sometimes even result in greater enslavement to yet other false powers.
It is not surprising and not for naught that when Jesus stepped onto the stage of history in his inaugural sermon in his hometown and synagogue, he proclaimed and claimed for himself Isaiah’s prophetic word: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…to proclaim release to the captive….to let the oppressed go free.” (Luke 4:18).
Paul is echoing Jesus’ proclamation with the climax and summation of his Letter to the Galatians: “For freedom Christ has set us free” (5:1). “Christ has set us free to become the persons God has created us to be” (Howard Baker, intro to Galatians, Spiritual Bible, NRSV, 2105).
As we grow into our freedom in Christ we become more like Jesus and more human.
Paul is struggling to help the early Christian movement come to know that love not law is at the heart of our freedom in Christ. Paul The culmination and summation of Paul’s Letter to the Galatians about love and freedom comes in chapter 5. Hear these summary excerpts.
For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery…. The Nature of Christian Freedom
For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working through love….For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’….The Works of the Flesh
Live by the Spirit, I say….if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law….The Fruit of the Spirit
the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.
Nellie Lehn’s story of love and freedom…. “Don’t you know I have the power to snuff out your life just like that?” “Don’t you know I have the power to give up my life just like that?”
Tariq Ramadan, the great Muslim scholar and one of the keynote speakers at the Spirituality NW book festival at Seattle University in early February, left us with a great word of wisdom.
He said something to the effect that our freedom is found in faith where ‘faith is not the freedom to do whatever one wants; it is to want what one needs.’
Years ago I remember being startled to hear a spiritual guide urge us to “Love God and do what you will.” I pondered that wisdom for years before its truth began dawning on me. Ponder that one. It may seem tricky but it’s true. “Love God and do what you will.”
If you truly love God you will have the greatest freedom you will ever know including the freedom to give up one’s own life rather than to harm another life.
Levi Oracion, a contemporary biblical prophet from The Philippines, said, “To be ready for death simplifies one’s soul and gives one tremendous courage. It allows for a radical disengagement with the nonessentials of life and frees one for a total commitment to truth.”
(Phillip Potter & Barbel Wartenberg Potter, Freedom is for Freeing: A Study on Paul’s Letter to the Galatians, xi)
Levi Oracion knows true freedom in Christ. Our freedom in Christ is free yet it costs not less than everything. Paul calls us to live our true freedom in Christ.
Blessing from Paul Galatians 1:3-5
We conclude by hearing Paul’s blessing to the people of Galatia:
Grace to you and peace from God….and….Jesus Christ, who….set us free from the present evil age, according to the will of our God….to whom be the glory for ever and ever. Amen.