Galatians 3:23-29 – A Ministry of Equals

Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. So, the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.

So, in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (New International Version)

So far, this year…

we have journeyed through Advent to see the Christ child…

followed the light of Epiphany with Jesus as the light of the world…

traveled in Lent to see ourselves in the light of Christ…

experienced Holy Week with the crucifixion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ…

exulted in the spiritual victory of Easter(tide)…

observed the Lord’s ascension to heaven…

and celebrated the incredible giving of the Holy Spirit to us as believers in and followers of Jesus.

Now…

we have entered the longest Christian season of the year: Ordinary Time or Proper Time.

Armed with the redemptive events of Jesus and with the Spirit as our Teacher, Guide, and Advocate, it is the ordinary ministry and proper life of every Christian to utilize our identity and belonging to spiritually grow and mature in Christ – and spread the seeds of the Gospel everywhere we go. This is simply the normative behavior of every Christian.

We are to bring…

faith, hope, and love to a world in need of God’s grace and peace – a world so often characterized by the chaos of hate, conflict, war, and unrest…

connection where there is disconnection, restoration where there is fragmentation, and inclusion wherever there is exclusion.

Ever since…

the fall of humanity, people have had the predilection to organize themselves in groups that keep them distinct from other groups. Whether it is high school peer groups or office politics; whether class warfare or church cliques; there has always existed a tendency to think better about the groups we identify with, and to look down and believe the worst about those we don’t understand or just don’t like.

But Jesus…

is the person who changes it all. Faith in Christ makes each of us equal with each other, whether Jew or a Greek, in bondage or in freedom, a man or a woman. The cross of Christ not only brought deliverance from sin, death, and hell; the work of Jesus Christ ushered-in a new egalitarian society.

I’m not sure the English translations of the Apostle Paul’s phrasing to the Galatian Church truly capture his passion about this issue. For Paul, Christ’s cross has done so much more than bring personal salvation; it has completely eradicated prejudice, discrimination, and division. 

Therefore…

the Church is to be the one place on earth where divisions no longer exist. It is to be a foretaste of heaven. The Church is to be a new society, a community of the redeemed, based in equity, diversity, and inclusion, from every people group, race, ethnicity, and gender.

Together as one, just as God is One, the Church lives the kingdom values of Christ’s words and ways in a fragmented and chaotic world.

Since then…

the ground is level at the cross, we are to live into our Christian unity with humble attitudes and loving actions. To do otherwise is to be immature. We (hopefully) expect kids to be kids and not be like adults. They need teaching, training, and tutoring to learn. When kids grow up and get into adulthood, we then expect them act like an adult. If they continue in childish behavior, they are immature.

Many adult Christians are still stuck in spiritual childhood. The evidence of this is seen in trying to stratify church society into insiders and outsiders, those who have always been in the church and newcomers who haven’t, or the committed servants and the lax pew sitters, or the givers and the takers, or the theological conservatives and theological liberals.

Rather than…

all of that dividing of people, our spiritual energy, powerfully given to us by the Spirit, is to be placed with living into the egalitarian society inaugurated by Jesus (and Paul). Not taking women’s leadership seriously, or avoiding relationships with the poor, or being xenophobic, or excluding gays, all come from a place of immaturity. It is childish behavior. And Jesus expects better.

Embracing an egalitarian society neither means we are all the same nor should act alike. The diverse backgrounds and experiences of people help make a rich mosaic of support for one another in the Body of Christ.

Being egalitarian means…

all people are created in the image and likeness of God – no exceptions. All persons, therefore, deserve morally equal treatment, respect, and justice. A just and good Christian ethic ensures all believers are handled with love, given sound instruction, and are free to explore their gifts and abilities within the church.

Pursuing equality means more than acknowledging our differences and saying we include others. We need the further step of becoming curious about other cultures, ethnicities, races, and peoples of all kinds.

We need curiosity…

about class differences, health disparities, and political views. It is good for us to actively seek to learn about things like gerrymandering and why its so important; or about what white privilege is and why that’s a big deal; or about mental illness or poverty or crime or any issue that impacts the human condition around us.

In other words, we become curious simply because, as Christians, we care about people.

The Church is…

at its heart, is a community of equals. Thus, the Church, as an egalitarian community, must actively reject racism, sexism, and all forms of discrimination while purposefully seeking ways to create and maintain a unified community without divisions.

Jesus reached out…

to the misfits and marginalized in society who were suffering from political, cultural, gender, and religious oppression and discrimination. The community of persons Christ formed included people of all ages and backgrounds. Children were welcome. Women sat down with men to learn and became active participants alongside one another.

Christ’s conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well, the parable of the good Samaritan, and the healing of the Canaanite woman’s daughter, all illustrate that ministry is to reach beyond our own familiar group. In short, Jesus practiced a radical hospitality. He loved and welcomed the stranger.

We Christians…

would do well to emulate our Lord, as well as take our cues on ministry from Paul, who grounded both his theory and practice of Christian mission and service in a Trinitarian theology of equals.

Gracious God, you have abolished barriers through the redemption of Christ. Prevent me from erecting walls that would divide and use me to be a bridge so that others may experience equality in Jesus. Amen.

Romans 12:9-21 – Live in Harmony with One Another

Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection and take delight in honoring each other. Never be lazy but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble and keep on praying. When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them. Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all!

Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.

Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say,

“I will take revenge;
    I will pay them back,”
    says the Lord.

Instead,

“If your enemies are hungry, feed them.
    If they are thirsty, give them something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap
    burning coals of shame on their heads.”

Don’t let evil conquer you but conquer evil by doing good. (New Living Translation)

God’s Word is applied by God’s Spirit through God’s people.

In other words, we all need community. To live in isolation from others, doing our own thing and only keeping to ourselves, is to be spiritually unhealthy – not to mention contra God’s will. We are meant to be close enough to one another to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn.

Living in harmony with others means we possess both an attitude and action of unity. Put another way, we are to regard everyone as equals by not playing favorites or looking down on some in a condescending way. We are to avoid sticking up our noses at others.

We need a willingness to interact with and minister to every kind of person. We aren’t just supposed to hob-nob with people who can help us get where we want to go, or who feed our ambitions. Rather, we are expected to treat everyone with respect and attention. 

Unity, harmony, and working together aren’t things that simply materialize out of thin air. There must be a great deal of effort expended to maintain healthy relations. 

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

Ephesians 4:2-3, NIV

True harmony is a humble willingness to associate with everyone, not just family and friends. This takes patience and a willingness to lovingly tolerate people’s quirks and idiosyncrasies. Every one of us is unique and distinctive, and, so, we must not think that everyone has to be like me, or that my way is the only way.

Unity and harmony are not natural to us in our fallen state. Left to our own devices, apart from the grace of God, we keep to ourselves and only interact with those whom we like, or look like us. It takes a great deal of energy to maintain harmony and good relations.

If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care—then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand. (Philippians 2:1-4, MSG)

Conducting ourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel is to kick up a sweat for harmonious living. To do it, there must be genuine conversation, listening, and dialogue. Only spouting personal opinions at each other won’t cut it.

Holy Scripture calls us to unity and harmony because we have a nasty tendency to think better of ourselves than what is really true, and of others what is not so good. 

We often inflate our positive qualities and abilities, especially in comparison to other people. For instance, when one research study asked a million high school students how well they got along with their peers, none of the students rated themselves below average. As a matter of fact, 60% of students believed they were in the top 10%; and 25% rated themselves in the top one percent.

Well-educated college professors were just as biased about their abilities. In the study, 2% rated themselves below average; 10% were average and 63% were above average; 25% rated themselves as truly exceptional. Of course, this is statistically impossible. Turns out, the average person believes he is a better person than the average person.

Christian psychologist Mark McMinn contends that this study reveals our pride. He says, “One of the clearest conclusions of social science research is that we are proud. We think better of ourselves than we really are, we see our faults in faint black and white rather than in vivid color, and we assume the worst in others while assuming the best in ourselves.”

The acid test of harmonious love is how we treat the lowly and underprivileged people among us.

“If a poor man comes into your church, behave like him and do not put on airs because of your riches. In Christ there is no rich or poor. Do not be ashamed of him because of his outward dress but receive him because of his inward faith. If you see him in sorrow, do not hesitate to comfort him, and if he is prospering, do not feel shy about sharing in his pleasure. If you think you are a great person, then think others are also. If you think they are humble and lowly, then think the same of yourself.”

St. John Chrysostom (347-407, C.E.) Bishop of Constantinople

People cannot function without harmony. Consider a tuning fork. It delivers a true pitch by two tines vibrating together. Muffle either side, even a little, and the note disappears. Neither tine individually produces the pure note. Only when both tines vibrate is the correct pitch heard. 

Harmony is not a matter of give and take and compromise to make each other happy or satisfied. Rather, harmony comes through a joint mission, a common purpose, and shared values. If we wholeheartedly pursue these values together, not in isolation, but with one another, then we will experience harmony. 

A divided community is a group which has lost its sense of mission and is confused about what values they are to embrace. However, a harmonious group of people knows why they exist, who they are, and what they will do together.

But what if someone offends or hurts me? Then, we bless and do not curse those who persecute us.

“Love to God disposes people to see his hand in everything; to own him as the governor of the world, and the director of providence; and to acknowledge his disposal in everything that takes place. And the fact that the hand of God is a great deal more concerned in all that happens to us than the treatment of people is, should lead us, in great measure, not to think of things as from others, but to have respect to them chiefly as from God – as ordered by his love and wisdom, even when their immediate source may be the malice or heedlessness of another person. And if we indeed consider and feel that they are from the hand of God, then we shall be disposed meekly to receive and quietly to submit to them, and to own that the greatest injuries received from other people are justly and even kindly ordered of God, and so be far from any ruffle or tumult of mind on account of them.”

Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758)

Nobody needs to get all up in someone else’s grill about something they did or didn’t do, but to realize that God is working behind the scenes, providentially accomplishing divine purposes. We are to take solace and comfort in that truth, and not create division where there is to be harmony.

We are all in this life together. We are our brother’s and our sister’s keeper. So, let’s work together in a common purpose of loving God, loving one another, and loving our neighbor.

Heavenly Father, you have called us to continue Christ’s work of reconciliation and reveal you to the world. Forgive us the sins which tear us apart. Give us the courage to overcome our fears and to seek that unity which is your gift and your will, through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Judges 4:1-16 – It Takes a Woman

Orthodox icon of Deborah

After Ehud died, the people of Israel again did what the Lord considered evil. So, the Lord used King Jabin of Canaan, who ruled at Hazor, to defeat them. The commander of King Jabin’s army was Sisera, who lived at Harosheth Haggoyim. The people of Israel cried out to the Lord for help. King Jabin had 900 chariots made of iron and had cruelly oppressed Israel for 20 years.

Deborah, wife of Lappidoth, was a prophet. She was the judge in Israel at that time. She used to sit under the Palm Tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the mountains of Ephraim. The people of Israel would come to her for legal decisions.

Deborah summoned Barak, son of Abinoam, from Kedesh in Naphtali. She told him, “The Lord God of Israel has given you this order: ‘Gather troops on Mount Tabor. Take 10,000 men from Naphtali and Zebulun with you. I will lead Sisera (the commander of Jabin’s army), his chariots, and troops to you at the Kishon River. I will hand him over to you.’”

Barak said to her, “If you go with me, I’ll go. But if you don’t go with me, I won’t go.”

Deborah replied, “Certainly, I’ll go with you. But you won’t win any honors for the way you’re going about this, because the Lord will use a woman to defeat Sisera.”

So, Deborah started out for Kedesh with Barak. Barak called the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali together at Kedesh. Ten thousand men went to fight under his command. Deborah also went along with him.

Heber the Kenite had separated from the other Kenites (the descendants of Hobab, Moses’ father-in-law). Heber went as far away as the oak tree at Zaanannim near Kedesh and set up his tent.

The report reached Sisera that Barak, son of Abinoam, had come to fight at Mount Tabor. So Sisera summoned all his chariots (900 chariots made of iron) and all his troops from Harosheth Haggoyim to come to the Kishon River.

Then Deborah said to Barak, “Attack! This is the day the Lord will hand Sisera over to you. The Lord will go ahead of you.”

So, Barak came down from Mount Tabor with 10,000 men behind him. The Lord threw Sisera, all his chariots, and his whole army into a panic in front of Barak’s deadly assault. Sisera got down from his chariot and fled on foot. Barak pursued the chariots and the army to Harosheth Haggoyim. So Sisera’s whole army was killed in combat. Not one man survived. (God’s Word)

Deborah was a leader – and a darned good one. And, to state the obvious, she was a woman.

Women are the greatest and largest untapped resource in both the church and the world. Perhaps you wonder why I state such a thing, being that more women attend church than men, and that there slightly more women in the world than men. But I stick to my statement. The reality for many churches and untold institutions around the world is that only men can hold positions of authority.

Within some churches and Christian denominations, the reasoning goes something like this: “The Bible says women can’t serve over men.” That’s curious. So, in other words, in the West, a woman can serve as a CEO of a Fortune 500 company, can be elected as governor of a state, and can manage men on a factory floor, but that same woman cannot serve as an elder in many evangelical churches.  

Those who are of the belief that a church office is based upon gender instead of just good old calling and gifting of the Spirit, then, methinks, it behooves us to ask these questions of the biblical text:

  • If women are not to exercise authority over men in the church, how do we account for actual women leaders in the Bible, such as Deborah, Huldah, Philip’s daughters, Priscilla’s role in Apollos’ life, not to mention the list of women leaders in Romans 16?  If our impulse is to say that these are exceptions because there were no men to “step up,” then what does that say about our theology? That God isn’t big enough to find a man to put into a position of leadership?
  • If we insist that women ought not to teach and be silent based on Paul in the New Testament book of 1 Timothy, why do we ignore Paul’s instruction in 1 Corinthians that women are to publicly prophecy and pray?
  • Doesn’t the prominence of women in the ministry of Jesus and Paul suggest something different than just having women tag along to teach children?
  • Just when does a boy become too old for a woman to legitimately teach him?  If women can’t teach men, why in the world would we ever think that they are the best teachers for boys?
  • How can we apply Galatians 3:26-28 as everyone else, besides women, are free to serve?
  • Does the Reformation doctrine of the priesthood of all believers only apply to men? Doesn’t the absence of women in church leadership go against this?
  • Isn’t it weird and confusing that women have an equal vote in congregational decisions, even when a male leader is being elected and/or disciplined, and they aren’t supposed to exercise authority?

I could go on, ad infinitum ad nauseum, but I think you get the picture. The absence of women in leadership is problematic because there are actual women leaders in the Bible. So, here is my unabashed, dogmatic, and biblical belief:  

All individuals are equally created in God’s image, and, therefore, have equal worth, privilege, and opportunity in Christ’s Church without any limitation, including gender. 

There are far too many wonderful Christian women who are exhausted and depressed because they are trying to live up to a certain expectation of being someone they are not. They suppress their gifts and calling. They think they have to prop-up the fragile male egos around them. They aren’t free to serve in leadership positions. And it’s eating them from the inside-out.  

Some women think there is something wrong with them. But the reality is that there is something wrong with the whole system of male-only authority. What’s more, we are missing the blessing of God because of inequity. It’s high time we value all women, even those with gifts of leadership, by allowing them to serve without limitation.

I have a wife and three daughters. All four of them are more intelligent, more gifted, and better leaders than me, the lone family male who holds a range of authoritative positions in the church and the world. To have the ladies in my life using their superior talents in the church by leading and serving is the least threatening thing to me on this earth. I love it that they can outdo me; it is my joy!  

Even more than that, I believe it is to the joy of Jesus, as well. We must be proactive in cultivating and nurturing the gifts and calling we see in women. They don’t need to be put in their place or dismissed as too emotional or weak. The good ol’ boy systems of the church and in the world need a swift kick in the rear. I, for one, am a man who believes in practicing a leadership that sacrifices on behalf of making women’s leadership a priority.

How about you?

Galatians 3:23-29 – A Ministry of Equals

Until the time when we were mature enough to respond freely in faith to the living God, we were carefully surrounded and protected by the Mosaic law. The law was like those Greek tutors, with which you are familiar, who escort children to school and protect them from danger or distraction, making sure the children will really get to the place they set out for.

But now you have arrived at your destination: By faith in Christ, you are in direct relationship with God. Your baptism in Christ was not just washing you up for a fresh start. It also involved dressing you in an adult faith wardrobe—Christ’s life, the fulfillment of God’s original promise.

In Christ’s family there can be no division into Jew and non-Jew, slave and free, male and female. Among us you are all equal. That is, we are all in a common relationship with Jesus Christ. Also, since you are Christ’s family, then you are Abraham’s famous “descendant,” heirs according to the covenant promises. (The Message)

Ever since the fall of humanity, people have had the predilection to organize themselves in groups that keep them distinct from other groups. Whether it is high school peer groups or office politics; whether class warfare or church cliques; there has always existed a tendency to think better about the groups we identify with, and to look down and believe the worst about those we don’t understand or just don’t plain like.

Jesus is the person who changes it all. Faith in Christ Jesus is what makes each of us equal with each other, whether Jew or a Greek, in bondage or in freedom, a man or a woman. The cross of Christ not only brought deliverance from sin, death, and hell; the work of Jesus Christ ushered-in a new egalitarian society.

I’m not sure the English translations of the Apostle Paul’s phrasing to the Galatian Church can truly capture his emphatic pathos about this issue. For Paul, Christ’s cross has done so much more than bring personal salvation; it has completely eradicated prejudice, discrimination, and division. 

Therefore, the Church is to be the one place on earth where divisions no longer exist. It is to be a foretaste of heaven. The Church is to be a new society, a community of the redeemed, based in equity, diversity, and inclusion, from every people group, race, ethnicity, and gender. Together as one, just as God is One, the Church lives the kingdom values of Christ’s words and ways in a fragmented world.

Since the ground is level at the cross, we are to live into Christian unity with a humble attitude and loving actions. To do otherwise is to be immature. We (hopefully) expect kids to be kids and not be like adults. They need teaching, training, and tutoring to learn. When kids grow up and get into adulthood, we then expect them to be like an adult. If they continue in childish behavior, they are immature.

Many adult Christians are still stuck in spiritual childhood. The evidence of this is seen in trying to stratify church society into insiders and outsiders, those who have always been in the church and newcomers who haven’t, the committed servants and the lax pew sitters.

Rather than all of that dividing of people, energy is to be placed with living into the egalitarian society inaugurated by Jesus (and Paul). Not taking women’s leadership seriously, avoiding relationships with the poor, and being xenophobic all come from a place of immaturity. It is childish behavior. Jesus expects better.

Embracing an egalitarian society neither means we are all the same nor should act alike. The diverse backgrounds and experiences of people help make a rich mosaic of support for one another in the Body of Christ.

Being egalitarian means all people are created in the image and likeness of God – no exceptions. All persons, therefore, deserve morally equal treatment, respect, and justice. A just and good Christian ethic ensures all believers are handled with love, given sound instruction, and are free to explore their gifts and abilities within the church.

Church, at its heart, is a community of equals. Thus, the church, as an egalitarian community, must actively reject racism, sexism, and all forms of discrimination while purposefully seeking ways to create and maintain a unified community without divisions.

Jesus reached out to the misfits and marginalized in society who were suffering from political, cultural, gender, and religious oppression and discrimination. The community of persons Christ formed included people of all ages and backgrounds. Children were welcome. Women sat down with men to learn and became active participants alongside one another.

Christ’s conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well, the parable of the good Samaritan, and the healing of the daughter of the Canaanite woman, all illustrate that ministry is to reach beyond our own familiar group. In short, Jesus practiced a radical hospitality.

Christians would do well to emulate their Lord, as well as take their cues on ministry from Paul, who grounded both his theory and practice in a Trinitarian theology of equals.

Gracious God, you have abolished barriers through the redemption of Christ.  Prevent me from erecting walls that would divide and use me to be a bridge so that others may experience equality in Jesus.  Amen.