Tag Archives: Galatians 1

The Maverick

I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.
Galatians 1:11-12 (NIV)

Note to my regular readers: Our local gathering of Jesus’ followers is  spending most of an entire year (Sep ’18 through Jul ’19) studying the book of Acts (which we just finished blogging through yesterday). In conjunction with this study, I’ve decided to blog our way through all of Paul’s letters in chronological order. The exact chronology is a matter of scholarly debate, so I will be making a few educated guesses myself. We begin with Paul’s letter to the believers in the Asia Minor region of Galatia.

I’ve always had a bit of maverick in me. Maverick is a relatively contemporary word rooted historically in a south Texas lawyer by that name back in the 19th century. Given a herd of cattle as payment of the debt, Maverick the lawyer had no need for the livestock. He left the cattle unbranded and let them roam free. The name soon became synonymous with an “unbranded” individual who likes to blaze their own trails and go their own way.

Being a maverick is one way I find myself really identifying with Paul. I see it all over the place in the opening to his letter to the believers in the region of Galatia in Asia Minor where he’d traveled and established local gatherings of believers on his first mission to the region (Acts 13-14). He begins his letter to the believers there establishing his individual authority apart from the Twelve and James, the brother of Jesus, in Jerusalem.

First, Paul reminds his readers that he received the Message from the risen Christ, not from another human being. The “Apostles” to early believers were those followers of Jesus to whom the risen Christ appeared and commissioned. Paul repeatedly placed himself in this category by stating that the risen Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus (Acts 9) and commissioned him to share the Message. The fact that his was a singularly unique appearance and calling made Paul a maverick. While the Twelve eventually embraced Paul and his calling, they also let him do his own thing.

Paul next makes it clear to the believers in Galatia that, after the dramatic events on the road to Damascus, that he didn’t go directly to Jerusalem and present himself to the Twelve. He went off, by himself, to Arabia and then returned to Damascus. The subtext of this claim is that Paul, once again the maverick, did his own thing and went his own way apart from the Twelve.

He goes on to explain that it was three years later before he traveled to Jerusalem and met with Peter and James. The Greek word Paul uses makes it clear that he was met with hospitality. Still, he specifies that it was only Peter and James. He didn’t meet the other eleven apostles.

This morning I’m reminded of the huge paradigm change Jesus introduced to those early believers. For well over a thousand years the Jewish paradigm introduced through Moses had been that “ministry” (I refer to the priestly sacrifices and duties of the tabernacle/temple) had been confined to certain people. Only descendants of Aaron could be priests. Only descendants of Levi could work in the temple. “Ministry” was restricted to the privileged few.

Among the early believers of Jesus everyone (including women, foreigners, youth, slaves, rich, poor, etc.) who believed and received the Holy Spirit received a spiritual gift to use in ministering to everyone else. Everyone was a part of the ministry.

This made way for a maverick like Paul. The Twelve and James were doing the thing Jesus called them to do down in Jerusalem and wherever. Paul had his own calling from Jesus. He blazed his own trail. If the ministry of the temple was confined, the ministry of the Message of Jesus was liberated and unlimited.

Which leads back to me. Somewhere along the line the institutional church decided to once again define and confine “ministry” to a privileged and approved few. But that was never the paradigm. Since the day of Pentecost, Holy Spirit has never been confined. The ministry of Jesus’ love through the gifts of the Spirit is the privilege and calling of every believer, even me. Which, I must admit, stirs my own maverick heart.

 

The Pros and Cons of Tradition

 

Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.
Galatians 1:10 (NIV)

Wendy and I went to see Union Street Players’ production of Fiddler on the Roof yesterday afternoon. It has been a long time since I’ve seen the show. I was a bit surprised how the musical, about changing times within a small, Russian Jewish community in the early 20th century, resonated with me.

We live in a small community with very deep Christian convictions, and our “Traditions” are very much like those of Anatevka, the community portrayed in Fiddler. For many, our Christian traditions provide a deep sense order and temporal peace in a rapidly changing world. When our traditions are threatened by change, it usually meets with loud and passionate objections fueled by anxiety and fear. As with Anatevka, there has historically been strong societal pressure to conform to the community traditions.

Paul was dealing with a very similar situation when he wrote to Jesus’ followers in Galatia. Most of Jesus’ early followers came from Jewish traditions which were then being threatened by non-Jewsish (a.k.a. Gentile) believers. The changes this wrought within these fledgling communities of believers was immense and the passionate divisions it stirred was intense. Those from Jewish traditions saw their faith in Jesus as a mere extension of their Jewish traditions.  Those from Gentile traditions did not wish to adopt Jewish traditions to be followers of Jesus.

Paul, addressing these divisions, makes it clear that he has no interest in doing things simply to bow to human traditions and become a people pleaser. As Tevye and the residents of Anatevka discover in Fiddler on the Roof, the times, they are a changing. Paul makes it clear that he will follow Jesus, even if it means abandoning many of his traditions and raising the ire of the society in which he was raised and from which he came.

Today, I’m thinking about my own traditions, the ones passed down to me by family and community. Some I honor and obey because I feel Jesus clearly commands His followers to do so. Some I honor and follow because I find them beneficial to me and to my life, relationships, and community. Some, I find silly and don’t care about whatsoever. Traditions are a good thing right up to the point they become more about keeping up appearances and pleasing the community than they do about sincere faith and personal spiritual benefit.

An Audience of One

audience of oneObviously, I’m not trying to win the approval of people, but of God. If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ’s servant. Galatians 1:10 (NLT)

In the wee hours of this morning I was up praying for and responding to an e-mail from my daughter. Earlier this week she and her husband crafted a well articulated blog post about the journey of relational and behavioral they have been struggling through in the past three years. As happens whenever you offer up intimate details of your life for public consumption you are bound to receive diverse reactions and responses. The kids have been struggling through some particularly negative, personal feedback.

I thought of them as I read the opening of Paul’s letter to those following Jesus in Galatia. In the early years after Jesus’ resurrection, there were all sorts of quarrels and schisms between the growing number of believers around the known world. Paul was a fiercely independent person and I get the impression that he had a very strong, fiery personality. Because Paul was not one of the original group of disciples, because he had once hunted down and executed Jesus’ followers, and because he didn’t not easily fit into the organizational structure of the emerging group of believers, there was a lot of controversy surrounding him and his work to share the good news of Jesus with the Roman provinces in Greece and southern Europe.

In today’s chapter, Paul makes it clear that he is doing what God had called him to do. He did not seek nor solicit anyone’s permission. He did not beg anyone’s leave. He had an audience of one, and that was God alone. He did not care what anyone thought about him or his work. He was not answering to them nor responsible for their reactions to him. He was not out to please people. He was working to please God by being obedient to walk the path he’d been given.

Unlike Paul, God gave me the personality of a people pleaser. I want people to like me. It makes me uncomfortable when people take issue with me, my words, or my actions. Yet, I have learned along the journey to accept the criticism, harsh words, and negative reactions that sometimes come with public speaking, blogging, and performing. I can’t keep people from judging me, criticizing me, or condemning me. What I can do is continue to walk the path God has laid before me, step-by-step, to the best of my ability, and to keep my focus on the audience of One who ultimately is the only One who counts.

My daughter shared with me some of the outpouring of people who have been touched, encouraged, moved and motivated by their blog post. People who thought they were alone in their own pain now have someone with whom they can identify. Opportunities are opening for them to help others through the painful struggle of their own brokenness. Despite the criticism of a few, many are benefitting from their courageous honesty, openness, and transparency. They have no need to waste emotional energy on unimportant criticism and the judgment of others. They need that energy to be channeled in love, grace and encouragement towards the precious ones who are coming out of the wood work to say, “Help. Me too.”