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Diocese of Charleston Bible Study + September 28, 2016

Galatians 3:15-22
Luke 5:33-39

Galatians 3:15-22 (NKJV)
Brethren, I speak in the manner of men: Though it is only a man's covenant, yet if it is confirmed, no one annuls or adds to it. Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, "And to seeds," as of many, but as of one, "And to your Seed," who is Christ. And this I say, that the law, which was four hundred and thirty years later, cannot annul the covenant that was confirmed before by God in Christ, that it should make the promise of no effect. For if the inheritance is of the law, it is no longer of promise; but God gave it to Abraham by promise. What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was appointed through angels by the hand of a mediator. Now a mediator does not mediate for one only, but God is one. Is the law then against the promises of God? Certainly not! For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law. But the Scripture has confined all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.

Luke 5:33-39 (NKJV)
Then they said to Him, "Why do the disciples of John fast often and make prayers, and likewise those of the Pharisees, but Yours eat and drink?" And He said to them, "Can you make the friends of the bridegroom fast while the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them; then they will fast in those days." Then He spoke a parable to them: "No one puts a piece from a new garment on an old one; otherwise the new makes a tear, and also the piece that was taken out of the new does not match the old. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; or else the new wine will burst the wineskins and be spilled, and the wineskins will be ruined. But new wine must be put into new wineskins, and both are preserved. And no one, having drunk old wine, immediately desires new; for he says, 'The old is better.'"

Commentary 

Many people, both outside of Christianity, and even some within the Faith, if asked to describe what Christianity teaches, will describe a religion which is based primarily on keeping a list of rules. If one successfully keeps, or mostly keeps these rules and is generally a 'good' person, then that person will go to heaven when they die. If that person generally doesn't keep the rules, or is a 'bad' person, then that person will go to hell when they die. While clearly this is a gross oversimplification, for many people, this is the basics of religion. In reality, the Christianity taught in the Holy Scriptures, the Faith delivered once and for all to the Saints, received by the Apostles and handed down in the Orthodox Church from generation to generation, could not be farther from this view.

Similar views were not uncommon in St. Paul's day, and he is addressing a similar view in today's epistle reading. The Pharisees, St. Paul's chief Judean rivals, like all of the Judean people who drew their faith and way of life from the Old Testament Scriptures, were waiting for the God of Israel to return to His people. He had left, in dramatic fashion recorded by the prophet Ezekiel, the Temple in which He dwelt in the midst of His people at the beginning of the sixth century B.C., and had not returned to them since. First to Abraham, and then reiterated by the Prophets through the ages, the Lord had made promises to His people, and through His people, to the entire world. He had promised that He would return and judge the earth, that the wicked would not go one prospering forever, nor would the righteous forever suffer at their hands. He had promised that those who were faithful to Him would inherit the whole Creation.

Through Moses, God have given His people the Law, His teaching revealing the way to make one's way through life on this earth that leads through death to eternal life, and warning against those ways which may seem to bring some prosperity, success, or happiness, but which in the end lead to death and destruction. It is no mystery to anyone even vaguely familiar with the Scriptures that the Law was no sooner given than it was violated, and it quickly in the histories of Israel and then Judah and then later Judea became compromised, ignored, and broken at every turn. The Pharisees connected these two revelations of God, and believed that the reason that they had not received God's promises was that they had not kept His Law. Their goal, therefore, became to create a community in which the Law was always followed perfectly, believing that once they had established such a righteous community on this Earth, that God would return to them, judge the wicked, and give them their inheritance.

Because the Apostle was trained and spent much of his life as a Pharisee, St. Paul was intimately familiar with this view. He had even gone so far as to oversee the murder of Christians, seeing the death of these heretics as cleansing one more stain from the community, and bringing God's return that much closer. After his encounter with Christ, however, he realized just how wrong he had been. As he points out in his Epistle to the Galatians today, the promises that God gave were made centuries before the Law was given. One was never tied to the other. Abraham was not given the Law as a way to earn the promises of God. Rather, God gave him the promises, and then afterward commanded Abraham to walk before him and be righteous. Abraham was called, first of all, to believe and trust that the promises God had made to him were true, and then to act accordingly, leaving everything he knew and traveling halfway across the known world, and being obedient even to be willing to sacrifice the son through whom all the promises had been predicted to come true.

Further, those promises were not made to Abraham's seed or descendants plural, but to his singular seed, his descendant, who is Jesus Christ. This is the core, for St. Paul, of the difference between what he believes as a Christian in comparison to what he previously believed as a Pharisee. He now sees that God has returned to His people in the person of Jesus Christ, that a judgment has taken place, and that the faithful remnant of the Judeans is now being joined by believers from all nations who are receiving the promises of God through faith in Jesus Christ. The Law came later, and was added as a guide and an aid to help us understand how to live in faith. Given our disobedience, however, it ended up having the opposite effect, revealing to all of us just how in need we are of the gracious promises of God in Jesus Christ. Christ therefore not only gives us an inheritance with the righteous, but He does so after saving us from the condemnation of death that we, through disobedience, have brought upon ourselves.

Brothers and sister in Christ, all of the promises of God, His Love, His Peace, His Joy, and our inheritance as His heirs are ours in Jesus Christ. Like our father Abraham, we live our life in this world remembering the truth of these promises, most especially the promise of eternal life in Christ's Kingdom, though we have received them now only by faith. Because of what Christ has already done for us, and the fullness of His Grace for which we hope, we continue to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling, striving to walk before the Lord and be righteous, and repenting of the sins and transgressions that seek to drag us back into the slavery from which He has freed us. How great is Christ's gift, and how great is our hope.

Questions to Ponder

  1. Is fasting something that you do regularly? Do you observe the four primary liturgical fasts of the Church? Do you fast on Wednesdays and Fridays? Whether you succeed or fail at keeping the fasting guidelines, do you exert the effort in the first place? Fasting is an exercise in self control. If changing what we eat on two days of the week seems impossible, what does that say about our ability to control ourselves?
  2. In today's epistle reading, St. Paul points out that God made His promises to Abraham, promises that would eventually come to their fruition in the person of Jesus Christ, before He gave the Law. From this, St. Paul shows that though sin and the resulting condemnation are real, and repentance is necessary, that God's grace and the inheritance of the Kingdom that we receive in Christ is far, far greater than that condemnation. It is often difficult as Christians to keep both of these poles in mind at once. Some struggle under a heavy burden of felt condemnation, even after confessing sins and receiving absolution, unable to forget the past. Some seek to constantly dwell in the warm glow of God's Love but do so by ignoring or papering over their sinfulness and actions they are taking that are harming themselves and others. Does either of these describe you? What can you do to remind yourself of the need for repentance, and the reality of forgiveness?
  3. How do you react to the concept of obedience? How willing are you to sacrifice the things that you might want in any given situation in favor of what others may need? When it comes to simple, everyday things like obeying speed limits, are you obedient to authority, or do you rebel? How much of your time is spent serving others rather than yourself?

Questions or Comments? FrStephen@stgeorgecharleston.org

Note from the Author – No rights reserved. If you find anything good, or helpful, or worthwhile in these Bible studies from week to week, feel free to take and use it as you see fit. I do not need credit.


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