“There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ.” (Galatians 3:28) The Apostle Paul wrote these words around 50-55 C.E. Yet these words still hold a challenge for us today, regarding how Jesus would have us treat each other, versus many in the church who treat their Christian sisters and brothers in less than a positive manner. Of course I know that all of you here don’t fit this second group, but there are many who do—people we may know.
Paul wanted the Galatians to see those around them through the lens of the gospel and love of Jesus Christ and not the law as outlined in the Torah commandments. In our society and church we have come a long way in this, but all of us know that more can be done.
The June edition of the "Lutheran Magazine" has an article called “Brothers and Sisters at Arms,” which is about the complex history of Lutherans during the Civil War. How one viewed the Bible, determined which side one supported during this struggle. Both Union and Confederacy Christians went to church, read the Bible, and prayed, etc. but saw things so very differently.
Additionally in this past Tuesday’s "USA Today," there was a piece about this July 1-3 being the 150th anniversary of the battle at Gettysburg (PA). It is estimated that at least 46,000 men from both sides of the war, were either killed, wounded or missing. So much pain and sorrow have been endured by far too many people throughout the world because of humanity’s unwillingness to see each other as Jesus would want us to. Yes, so much more needs to be done to come closer to mirroring Paul’s statement that we all are one in Christ.
Fortunately, since this war we have come a long way and have enacted many laws to try to ensure that all are treated equally. The ironical part of this is that Paul’s letter tried to get the Jewish Christians to realize that once Jesus Christ came the laws arising out of the Torah commandments couldn’t justify someone before God. Thus, the Torah law wasn’t needed and yet we have to enact human laws to get people to treat each other fairly.
In his letter to the Galatians Paul was very upset because of what the Jewish Christians were requiring of the Gentile converts. It seems that the Jewish Christians were asking these new Christians to follow the Jewish laws, and Paul felt that this worked against those wanting to have a relationship with Jesus Christ. This letter outlines Paul’s theme of our salvation being a gift and not something we can earn, also that the Law was less important once we are in baptized in Christ, and that when we are all one in Christ there are no divisions, due to race, class, or sex.
Now before faith in Jesus Christ came all were under the Law, subject to keeping all of the many Laws and were always having to make atonement for those that were broken.
However, because of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension we have the gift of eternal life, which begins now as well as in the life to come. We have God’s promise of forgiveness because of the faith of Jesus Christ, and as a gift of God’s pure grace.
“There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ.” WOW! What a thought-provoking statement that most surely upset the apple cart in Paul’s time.
Paul basically removed all barriers and accepted practices at that time. He was saying that once a person was baptized into Christ, they belonged to him, and thus everyone became the same. It no longer mattered if one were a Jew, Gentile, Greek, Roman, red, white, blue, or if they were rich or poor, or somewhere in the middle, or young or old, or male or female, it didn’t matter because in Jesus Christ we all have equal status, we are all beloved children of God.
Can’t you just see the Jewish males at that time rolling their eyes and giving Paul a scornful look? In the Jewish culture males enjoyed great power and privileges, while slaves, children, and women were looked upon as having little value in that culture.
Gentiles, slaves, children, and women could rejoice in this new identity and authority, the things that they had been taught previously where drastically changed by Paul’s letter. Their status was no longer based upon their relationship to the Jewish males in that society, but rather on their relationship to Jesus Christ. Let me repeat that: their status was no longer based upon their relationship to the Jewish males in that society, but rather on their relationship to Jesus Christ.
I mentioned earlier that we have a long way to go in carrying out Paul’s teaching that all are one in Jesus Christ, but there are certainly times when his words have been lived out. I want to share a story in my life where this was shown very clearly. I am sure that many of you here can also come up with your own stories, and I would encourage you to reflect on them during this coming week.
In 2000 I entered Trinity Lutheran Seminary not knowing why I was going, only that I was meant to go. At the same time a woman named Shirley Ross enrolled, however unlike me, she knew that she was called to be a pastor. We had never met before this, but during the first quarter we were in 3 of 4 classes together, and the rest is history. We were married at Trinity in 2002 after I received my MTS. Degree. Both of us had lost spouses due to death and many of our friends and family had walked through that pain with us.
When we decided to get married, these same friends and family wanted to share in the joy and love of our wedding day. On that July Saturday in Columbus, Ohio we were a very small example of what Paul was expressing in saying that all are one in Christ. We were blessed to have people of different economic backgrounds, races, and religions, including Catholic, a wide cross-section of Protestant worshipers, and a Jewish couple, and some who didn’t belong in any group. They came because they were happy for us and wanted to share in our love and joy. On the day, all were together with the only common thread connecting us being God’s love truly present and stronger than skin colors, religious beliefs, or social status.
May the Holy Spirit guide and strengthen you through your worship and outreach to live as a beloved child of God in whom there is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female for all are one in Christ. Amen!
Copyright © 2013 Vernon T. Jones, All rights reserved