Tag Archives: Apostle Paul

To Religious Rule Keepers: Go Castrate Yourselves

I just wish that those troublemakers who want to mutilate you by circumcision would mutilate themselves. Galatians 5:12 (NLT)

What we read in God’s Message can easily be confusing without the historical context. Paul’s letter to the Jesus followers in Galatia is a great example.

At the time Paul was writing his letter, the rite of circumcision in which the foreskin of the male penis is cut off and removed had been part of the Jewish religion for over a thousand years. The tradition dated back to the days of Abraham in the book of Genesis. In the early days of Christianity there was a huge debate raging whether you could be a follower of Jesus without keeping the labyrinth of Jewish laws, rules and regulations such as circumcision. Because Jesus  and all of the disciples had been Jews, many were teaching that following Jesus required converting to Judaism with all of its requisites, including circumcision.

Paul had gone to Galatia and taught the message of Jesus which is actually very simple: turn away from your wrong doing, believe in Jesus and invite Him into your heart and life. Then, follow Jesus teachings and love others. Many in Galatia believed and there was a growing group of Jesus followers in the town. Paul left to go to other cities and in his absence some men came to town claiming to be of greater authority than Paul. They started telling all the Jesus followers that they were required to convert fully to Judaism. All the men who believed in Jesus would have to have the foreskins of their penises cut off.

Paul was righteously ticked off. In fact, the English translators who translated what we read from the original Greek language in which Paul wrote are always  so careful with the verse above. In the original Greek, what Paul is really saying is “I wish those who are teaching that you have to be circumcised would go all out. They shouldn’t stop with the foreskin of the penis, they should go ahead and castrate themselves.”

We can scarcely imagine what huge theological issues the early church grappled with as those who followed Jesus differentiated themselves from the Jewish traditions from which they emerged. The entire letter Paul writes to the Jesus followers in Galatia is about this one major theme. Jewish tradition was about zealously keeping all the rules of the law of Moses. It was a system built on rules, rites and sacrifice. Paul is telling them to forget the letter of the law and focus on the Spirit of the law: love God, love others.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. We no longer have these same theological conflicts, but the heart of the conflict remains. People still like to make faith in Jesus about keeping rules and regulations so as to appear righteous before others. Just last night I had a conversation with my daughter who has been recently chastised by someone for not toeing the line of their religious rules. My advice to her came right from Paul’s letter: Follow Jesus and choose love.

I didn’t add “let the religious rule police go castrate themselves”….but I thought it. Like Paul, I felt a little ticked.

A Teacher’s Love

 

GDR "village teacher" (a teacher tea...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Oh, my dear children! I feel as if I’m going through labor pains for you again, and they will continue until Christ is fully developed in your lives.. Galatians 4:7 (NLT)

Several years ago my mother was greeting at church and a woman asked her if she was Tom Vander Well’s mother. “I am,” my mother answered. The woman told my mother that she had been my first grade teacher and she wanted my mother to say hello to me. I was blown away to know that Mrs. Avery would remember me after all those years. I loved her. She changed my life by giving me a love for school and for learning. I made a point of visiting her a few weeks later to tell her that and to thank her. Sitting in her living room, she pulled out my old class photo and began naming each student and talking about each one as if we were the previous year’s class. When she told me that she prayed for each of her students, I wasn’t surprised.

I’ve been teaching a class this fall on creativity. It’s been several years since I’ve taught, and I’ve been amazed to remember how intensely I feel for those in my class. In my morning quiet times I find myself thinking of each one, naming them individually and praying for them. During the week I feel concern. I wonder how their week is going and what God is doing in their lives through the assignments and material.

I identified with Paul when in today’s chapter he described his feelings of responsibility for those he taught in Galatia as labor pains. On one hand it seems a bit of an odd metaphor because, face it, neither Paul nor I can really understand true labor pains. I think Paul used the metaphor because as a teacher you realize that something is being birthed in your students. There are new thoughts, new perceptions, and there is new life emerging when God’s Spirit is at work. And that is the key. God and the students are doing that hard work. I’m just a facilitator and conduit. Nevertheless, when I’m involved in the facilitation of that process, I experience a love and commitment to those in my charge.

Chapter-a-Day Ezra 2

Mosaic of the 12 Tribes of Israel. From a syna...
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“These are those who came from Tel Melah, Tel Harsha, Kerub, Addon, and Immer. They weren’t able to prove their ancestry, whether they were true Israelites or not….” Ezra 2:59-60 (MSG)

Coming from a “good family” means a lot in many circles. As a child, I remember kids on the playground comparing notes about famous people in their family tree. My Great Aunt worked tirelessly to prove that she belonged in the Daughters of the American Revolution (D.A.R.). Even in the little Dutch-American community where I live I know that I’ve experienced a certain amount of acceptance moving in that other newcomers do not simply because I have a Dutch surname.

When reading the Old Testament, it’s important to remember that for Israelites in ancient times, the family of origin was huge. Your occupation and your position on the social pecking order was a all determined by family tree. To fully participate in the rites of the temple you had to prove your genetic connection.

When Jesus came and offered salvation to anyone who placed their faith in Him, Jew or non-Jew, it was a radical paradigm shift for the group of Jewish followers in His inner circle. Saul or Tarsus, later known as the Apostle Paul, was a Jew of high standing and persecutor of the early Christians until he was personally confronted by the risen Jesus and immediately became a faithful follower. Paul often bragged about his Jewish pedigree when debating with his fellow Israelites about Jesus, but was the most rabid proponent of loving, reaching out to, and including non-Jewish Gentiles into the Christian faith. Paul was the first to fully embrace the truth that in Jesus there is no social pecking order based on your family tree or religious pedigree. Those who follow Jesus are spiritually the same:

So where does that put us? Do we Jews get a better break than the others? Not really. Basically, all of us, whether insiders or outsiders, start out in identical conditions, which is to say that we all start out as sinners. Romans 3:9 (MSG)

I can only imagine the shame that “those who came from Tel Melah, Tel Harsha, Kerub, Addon, and Immer” felt at being the only ones among the 42,000 Israelites to return to Jerusalem who could not prove their pedigree. I have to believe they felt the condemning looks and subtle prejudice from the “blue blood” Israelites with whom they journied.

Today, I’m glad that my relationship with God has nothing to do with my genetic code or family tree. I’m grateful that God does not have a spiritual pecking order of “haves and have nots.” We are all, every one of us, “have nots” until Jesus, in His mercy, graciously forgives us, redeems us, and adopts us into His spiritual family as a joint heir of God’s rich spiritual inheritance.

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