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March 8 - Galatians 3:15-29 - "One Family of Faith"
MPC 8th March 2009.
If your only real experience is watching The Brady Bunch on TV you'll be thinking that living in a blended family is laugh-a-minute fun. The real thing, of course, is not nearly so easy.
On The Brady Bunch, you've got Mike and his boys, you've got Carol and her girls, and it's a marriage made in heaven. With an instant family to match. I mean, most weeks there's a convenient little crisis that resolves itself neatly in 23 minutes, just in time for the theme song. But in real life blended families there's usually a kind of a deep ongoing confusion that never quite goes away. Or even mistrust. You've got the issues like "you're not my dad so why are you telling me what to do." You've got the confusion about family boundaries; the rules that used to be good in one side of the family somehow don't apply to the other. And so you've got to work out if the family's going to operate on Mike's rules or on Carol's rules. Or some combination of the two. You've got the expectation that there'll be enough Brady Bunch love to go around. But so often there isn't.
In real life, this is painful stuff. As I'm sure many of you know from sad experience.
And sometimes just as painful and just as disappointing when it comes to the family we call church.
Now have you noticed that's the key issue Paul's dealing with here in his letter to the Galatians. Because it's all about blending two very different families into one family in Christ.
How are you going to bring together Christians from the Israel family... who have called God their father since the days of Moses)... how are you going to bring them together with brand new Christians from the Gentile family... who the Jews have been taught all their lives to despise as unclean.. Here they are, these Gentile Christians, these Christians just like us... who are the new kids on the block. With no heritage running back to Moses at all.
So as we saw last time, there are tensions forming. This Judaising group who have even pushed the Apostle Peter to stop eating with Gentile Christians and to separate from them. While Paul himself is standing firm. Saying we've got to be one family and not be drawn back by the Judaizers into the dividing lines of Moses and the Old Testament law.
There's a summary of where we're heading in verse 27 to 29. And you can follow it on the handout sheet right near the end of the page. God's Family is going to be one family. And to really be one family, the old dividing lines have got to go. United not by Jewish law, but united in Christ. Read from verse 27. "For all of you who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ... then you are Abraham's family, heirs according to promise."
A Brady Bunch family, made up of men and women, Jews and Gentiles, black and white; even slaves and masters. All one in Christ Jesus. A Brady Bunch family, this family that's come together with everyone on the same footing. Not on the basis of the law of Moses. But on the basis of the promise to Abraham. The promise to Abraham of one family united under Christ. United, in Paul's words, in Christ.
Now if you've got that, you've got the heart of the passage. If you've got that, you've got Paul's point perfectly. Though we're going to tease it out in a bit more detail.
So let's start back at the beginning in verse 15 which is simply making the point that unless you're Sonny Bill Williams and you want to play Rugby in France, you don't go messing with contracts. You don't now, and you didn't back then. Paul says, here's a human example. "Brothers, I speak in terms of human relations: even though it is only a man's covenant, yet when it has been ratified, no one sets it aside or adds conditions to it." Once it's ratified, Eddy has locked it in.
Which is how it is all the more with the promises God made to Abraham. If a man made contract is binding, how much more God's promises. How much more God's contract with Abraham.
Now look, Paul's angling here at these guys who are saying if you want to be a Christian, you've got to do the things in the law of Moses. We saw them last week. And the only background you need to know if you're not an Old Testament guru is that this contract with Abraham came way before the laws of Moses. And a deal is a deal. And you can't just set aside or add to it.
He's talking about the contract with Abraham that came way before the law of Moses; the promises that were the foundation of the nation of Israel.
Now the reason you've got the passage on a piece of paper today is that there's one point where our NIV Bibles I think could make the translation clearer. And so in the handout, there's one word I've replaced. Because when Paul's talking about Abraham's seed which the niv has or Abraham's offspring which some translations use instead, I think the whole thing becomes clear if you just put in the word family instead. (See the Study Guide for further development of this.)
Seed = Offspring = Family.
In the ancient way of thinking, your seed was your whole future family. So let's take a look at the contract that can't be changed.
Verse 16. Talking about the promise God made to Abraham right back in Genesis 12 to use his family line to put things right with the world.
Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his family. He does not say, "And to families," as referring to many, but rather to one, "And to your family," that is, Christ.
The family God was promising to Abraham... Paul says that's nothing like the multiple fractured church family meal split between the Jew table and the Gentile table and the black table and the white. God's promise wasn't multi families. God's promise was one family. One family in Christ.
In other words, if you want a part of God's blessing, this is where you find it. The first contract; the original deal, the promise of this one family of Abraham. And you become part of that by coming to Christ.
Which is what he's expanding down in verse 28. Whatever you were - now you're all one in Christ Jesus. God didn't promise a splintered, divided, some in the "in group" some in the "out group" type of family. Or a we'll do it this way and you do it that way type of family. One family. Integrated. God's promise was one family. So be one.
At which point I guess the Jews in Galatia are still saying, that's fine. As long as these Gentiles follow the family rules. They can join us as long as they take on the laws of Moses. But here's where they've missed the point.
Look again. And keep an eye on that diagram on the screen. Because to make one family out of people who have had the law and people who haven't had the law, one side has to change. And Paul spells out who it is. See if you can follow it in verse 17 and 18. Paul says "What I'm saying is this: the Law, which came four hundred and thirty years later, doesn't invalidate the covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise. Because if the inheritance is based on law, it is no longer based on a promise; but God has granted it to Abraham by means of a promise. "
Here's the Old Testament history lesson. The fact is, God started blessing Abraham's family way before the 430 years they spent in Egypt, way before Moses came and led them back to the promised land and gave them the law. God's promise was there calling the family together way before the commandments even came.
See, it's an argument over origins. It's an argument for the moral high ground, saying who was here first? Abraham's Promise? Or the law of Moses?
And the like you can see on the little time line there, the answer is obvious. You've got Abraham's family of promise, you've got the Abraham contract going on for 430 years before Moses and the law. And the law when it came, doesn't supersede the promise or make a whole new way to get right with God. The law doesn't nullify God's promise. The deal was still the same. God makes a promise. You put your faith in him. Full stop.
"What I am saying is this..." verse 17. "The law, which came 430 years later, doesn't invalidate a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise. For if the inheritance is based on law, if being in the one family of God depends on keeping the law, then it's no longer based on a promise. But God has granted it to Abraham by means of a promise."
And yet we've had generations of Australians, generations of Presbyterians, who still think keeping the Old Testament law is the way to God's blessing. It's been taught at our bible colleges. It's been preached in our churches. Maybe you've been brought up on it. And yet Paul says, the family inheritance isn't based on law. It's based on the promise. It's been there in the covenant right from the start.
And so comes the question, well, are you saying it's like the law is somehow an enemy of the promise? That there's something wrong with the commandments of God? To which Paul says, no... the law was given because we Israelites needed looking after and limiting. But it was never God's plan that the law was going to bring his one family of blessing together. Moses was just middle man for Israel. And only for a time.
Follow verse 19. He says, the law was given to because of our transgressions. Until the one family would come to which the promise had been made.
You'll need to work through the logic. He's saying the law was given through angels by a mediator, Moses. The law came from God. But Moses and the law were never going to be the mediator of the one family that came later. Moses and the law were for Israel. Back then. But God's plans were way bigger than just Israel. And way bigger than Moses.
And can you see, the magic word is until. Why the Law then? It was added because of transgressions, having been ordained through angels by the agency of a mediator, until the family came to whom the promise had been made. And special congratulations if you picked up the obscure little clue in the growth group study this week that was there for the cryptic crossword fans among you.
The law was given through Moses. Until Jesus came. And the one family that he brings together.
God is one. And it's exactly because God is one that division in his people is not on. Moses was never going to be the mediator of the one family God was planning from all the nations. His law was for Israel. Until Jesus.
Which is exactly what Paul goes on to say in verse 21 to 25. And it's exactly what you can see on the timeline. But first of all read it from the sheet. Verse 21.
Is the Law then contrary to the promises of God? May it never be! For if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law. But the Scripture has shut up everyone under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. But before faith came, we Jews were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. Therefore the Law has become our tutor until Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.
There's that until word again.
Paul says "we were like a kid with a babysitter." My girls love babysitting. Every now and then I get to hear the horror stories when they get home. They have to be firm. Sometimes like Rosalyn in the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip who's the babysitter who always wins. Last week Calvin held Rosalyn's science notes to ransom and threatened to flush them down the toilet if she didn't let him stay out of bed and watch tv. But the thing is, Rosalyn is tough. And Rosalyn always wins.
Israel was like a child with a babysitter. Paul says Israel was like a kid with a tutor. Until Christ. And keeping commandments was never meant to be the way to righteousness so much as a babysitter to keep Israel under control until there was a better way. Which has now come.
And so as Paul struggles to bring together one grown up family out of these two factions, how inappropriate it is to push the tutor onto the Gentiles as well. This is the start of a new era. This is the end of the sort of division there was between Jew and Gentile that was enforced by the Law. This is the time for one family. Under Christ.
Now again, I wonder how well we've seen that? It's not that long ago I heard a preacher say, "If we want to see revival we've got to preach the law more. And not just Christ." To which I want to say to him, you need to read Galatians more.
But there are still even now those who want to say, our challenge is to bring people under God's law again. To which I want to say, our challenge is simply to bring people together under the Lord Jesus. Which is a very different thing.
It's funny, isn't it, if we've brought up with all these rules. What you can and can't do on a Sunday. Can you mow the lawn? Can you go to the footy? Can you hang out the washing? Can you buy Sunday lunch at McDonalds? And yet there are people who come to faith in Jesus these days who have been brought up with none of that stuff. Do you reckon it's up to we who were brought up the other way to push them into the mold? Teach them the rules? Paul says no!
See, verse 26 and 27, it's a word of reassurance to the new family members who are maybe thinking they're second rate. Paul's saying, no matter what anyone else wants to tell you about taking on the law, being circumcised, the rules are, there are no extra rules. Other than faith in Christ Jesus. Verse 26, back where we started... "For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ." And that's without distinction. One family. Just the way God promised. One family, under God's promised blessing. Verse 28 and 29. This is the one family in the world where there distinctions are wiped away. He says "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's descendants, heirs according to promise."
Now friends, we've dug some tough ground this morning. But if nothing else made any sense to you, just stick with those last two verses. Because they sum it all up. And we maybe need to be reminded of what he's saying. Bringing together a blended family is never easy. But if you belong to Christ, that's what you're part of. One family. That mustn't be divided over petty squabbles. You might be a Jew. You might be a Greek. Which means, before, you'd never even touch one another. But all that's changed. You're one. You might be a slave. You might be free. You might come from opposite ends of the social spectrum... you're one family. Not defined by the law of Moses any more. But by faith in Jesus.
Bringing together any sort of blended family is tough going. No matter what the Brady Bunch tells you. Especially a church family.
Interesting the comments of an African American Federal court judge the other day. He said it's a great thing to have an African American President in Barack Obama. But we'll know we're really getting somewhere if on a Sunday morning, we get to the point where there are mixed race churches. And not black churches and white churches the way there are now.
Where are our fault lines on this stuff I wonder? Where are our tribes?
Are you a Mac person or a PC? I was reading the other day that the sort of computer you use passes all the sociological tests of being a religion. Though only if you use a Mac. You're a zealot. But all one in Christ Jesus.
Are you voting Liberal National Party, or you voting Labor? Let me tell you, it doesn't matter a jot in our church family. Because we're all one in Christ Jesus. Are you from Queensland? Or from NSW? Look, forget about coming from overseas. I reckon there's racism in Queensland just for coming from interstate. But friends, never here.
I still reckon the biggest lines I see in our church are the sedimentary layers laid down by the years. That you lock in to friendships with the people who started at church when you did. And there's virtually no crossover at all with anyone new in the last five years. Or the last ten years.
It's easy for division to grow, isn't it? As our church grows. As you're surrounded by people who are new and who are different. We'll only ever grow as a reflection of the one family we're called into by being family builders. I keep saying to our regulars, make sure you say "Hi" to the new people. And then someone said, well, the new people never say hello to me. Which might be a fair point. New people, today, you be first. Be family builders. Because God's plan was always to bring together one big Brady Bunch family made up of all kinds of people. Not under law. But under Jesus. Sometimes people like you. Sometimes very different. But all of us one... in Christ Jesus who we serve. Let's make sure we live it.