September 16 -- Galatians 3:1-9
If you've been listening along until now, you might notice a change in Paul's words today. So far, in this letter, Paul has mostly been talking about himself. He has been reminding his friends in Galatia of the good news he first told them. He wants them to hear that it came straight from Jesus, and that it is so important he was even willing to fight with Peter about it. But now he is turning his attention to his friends, and what is happening in their lives and churches.
Here is what was going on: new teachers had come to the churches in Galatia, and were teaching that following Jesus was not enough to belong to God's family. You also had to keep God's family ways. These teachers said you couldn't be right with God if you didn't also follow Moses's law.
Paul had one word for these teachers: no. Jesus Christ and his faithful love are what bring all people — Jewish and Gentile — into God's family. There is no other way in. That is the good news that Paul's friends in Galatia had heard and accepted. Today, he is going to continue to remind them of that good news, and begin to explain why the new teachers are wrong.
Today's reading is Galatians chapter 3 verses 1 through 9.
1 You foolish people of Galatia! Who has put you under an evil spell? When I preached, I clearly showed you that Jesus Christ had been nailed to the cross. 2 I would like to learn just one thing from you. Did you receive the Holy Spirit by obeying the law? Or did you receive the Spirit by believing what you heard? 3 Are you so foolish? You began by the Holy Spirit. Are you now trying to finish God's work in you by your own strength? 4 Have you really experienced so much for nothing? And was it really for nothing? 5 So I ask you again, how does God give you his Spirit? How does he work miracles among you? Is it by doing what the law says? Or is it by believing what you have heard? 6 In the same way, Abraham "believed God. God was pleased with Abraham because he believed. So his faith made him right with God."
7 So you see, those who have faith are children of Abraham. 8 Long ago, Scripture knew that God would make the Gentiles right with himself. He would do this by their faith in him. He announced the good news ahead of time to Abraham. God said, "All nations will be blessed because of you." 9 So those who depend on faith are blessed along with Abraham. He was the man of faith.
Do you remember the story of Abraham?
To find that story, we have to go all the way back to the very first book in the Bible. That book is called Genesis, which means "beginning." Genesis is all about beginnings: the beginning of our world, the beginning of when things went wrong, and the beginning of God's plan to make things right.
If we turn all the way back to Genesis chapter 12, we can see the start of God's plan to set our world right. God comes to a man named Abram, and he says:
"Go from your country, your people, and your father's family. Go the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation. I will make your name great. You will be a blessing to others. I will bless those who bless you. I will put a curse on anyone who puts a curse on you. All nations on earth will be blessed because of you."
And do you know what happened? Abram took God at his word. He left his home and his father's family. God called Abram to leave and begin a new family that would belong specially to God. He believed that his new family would show the world the way back to God.
How big would this new family be? Would it just be the people who were born, the normal way, into Abram's family tree? God had an answer for this. One night, he took Abram outdoors. God said, "Look up at the sky. Count the stars, if you can. That's how many children will be born into your family." Have you ever gone outside and looked at the night sky, when there are no other lights around? Have you ever tried to count the stars? That's an impossible number! But Abram believed that God both could and would keep that promise. He trusted that the God who called him was faithful and true.
In the same way, when Paul came to Galatia, he told the people there that Jesus had died for them and opened up a new way into God's family. They heard this good news, believed that Jesus really had done that for them, and they began to live like it was true! They gathered together, they worshiped Jesus as the Risen King, and they experienced the Holy Spirit coming among them. They had become Abraham's children: just like Abraham, they trusted God to make them into a new family.
But then the new teachers came. They said something different from Paul. The new teachers told the Galatians it wasn't enough to trust God's promises. They also needed to follow Moses's laws in order to be really right with God. Paul's sharp words to them are also for us today: it is God who makes us right, and who welcomes us into his family. Like Abraham, we can rest in what God will do for us. That rest, and that trust, are the beautiful badge that we are Abraham's children, and we belong to God.
Let's get ready to wonder about God's good words together.
Loving God: make our minds curious, our hearts open, and our bodies at peace. Thank you for inviting us to wonder about your words. Amen.
Paul used the word "faith" a lot in our reading today. What do I think of when I hear that word?
Abraham trusted the God who spoke to him. He believed that God really meant what he said, and that he was strong enough to make his words come true. I wonder if I can ask God to help me grow in that kind of faith?
God's promises to us are so big. In Jesus, he promises to set us free from sin and death, and to bring us into a new and loving family life with other faith-people. And he promises that that new family life will bless the whole world. Is it sometimes hard for me to believe that God will keep these promises? Can I talk to God about that right now?
When Abraham believed God's promises, that was the start of a worldwide family. All of Abraham's children believe God's promises together, and belong to God together. I wonder why God wants us to believe and trust together, as a family, and not just on our own?
Loving God, thank you for Paul's words to the Galatians, and thank you that somehow by your Spirit, they are also your words to us. Give us the wisdom and understanding that come from your Holy Spirit so that we can know you better. Show us the faithfulness of Jesus, and help us to put our trust and hope in him alone. In his beautiful name, Amen.