Monday, June 20, 2016

Galatians 5:1;13-25

Summary:  Freedom means something different for Paul than for modern Americans.  For modern Americans freedom means license to live as we please.  In Paul's eyes freedom is not about the individual, but living as the new creation in community.  I think it is greatly worth preaching on this topic -- what does freedom actually mean?  Freedom allows us to reject -- even crucify -- the flesh and embrace service together in the community.   At the bottom of the post I offer some more suggestions on preaching.

ενεχεσθε ("hold in", from ενεχω, 5:1) This little verse is a good example of how context helps us translate.   Paul here commends us not to "be subject/be burdened" (ενεχω) to the yoke of slavery. This word, ενεχω (enecho), is tough to translate.  Literally it means "hold in."  It has the connotation of "cherish inward wrath at one," or perhaps "be seized" with something, as in get caught up in a situation.   Elsewhere in the NT (Mark 6:19; Luke 11:53) it means hold a grudge or be bitterly opposed to.   If one inserts this translation, one gets this meaning: "Christ set you free; don't be opposed to the yoke of slavery!" That doesn't sound right!

So...let's look at the whole context.  Galatians as a whole and specifically chapter 5 suggest the yoke of slavery is not the burden of following Jesus but the burden of (antiquated) laws and works-righteousness.   Thus, we need a different translation; ultimately we will take on the burden of slavery to Christ.  To capture this, a best sense is probably "caught up in"  as in, "don't get caught up in the law again."  I think the NIV does the best job with this translation (be burdened).

αφορμη(ν) ("opportunity," 5:13) A little bit more word play.  Paul tells us here not to "indulge the flesh" (NIV). Paul literally writes: Not freedom for αφορμη in/to the flesh, but through love serve/slave one another. The word αφορμη is pretty interesting and alone would make for a good sermon in a few ways. The word comes from apo (from) + horme (ορμη with rough breathing accent).  "horme" comes into English as "hormone," meaning "stir" or "impulse."   An apohorme then is a base from which the impulse comes.  Moreover, the word can also mean the capital of a banker. So you have three metaphors for how our freedom can be abused: we follow the hormones of our flesh; we use our freedom as a base of operations for the flesh or it becomes the capital on which we draw to sin...Grace becomes the bank that we rob...

λογος ("word," 5:14) Paul curiously phrases this verse: "The law can be fulfilled in one command, love one another as yourself." First off, he does not use the word command; he uses the word "logos."  I am speculating here, but I wonder if Paul almost wants to elevate this above the idea of commandments, if not the law itself. (Paul uses similar language in Romans 13:9). It as if Paul is saying -- loving your neighbor belongs to the eternal Word; the other stuff we have are laws and words.  In fact, the command, "Love you neighbor as yourself" is not really a command, but in fact, an indicative statement: "You will love your neighbor as yourself." While Greek can use the future indicative for a command, I find this fascinating that the most essential command is, in fact, not a command.   We cannot be told to love our neighbors.  This is not a possibility for obedience.  We can obey simply tasks, but love of our neighbor is a divine gift, a fruit of the Spirit.

πεπληρωται ("fulfill", from πληρoω, 5:14)  Summed up is not a strong enough translation for this verse.  It means more brought to fullness or completion.  I think the translation: "The law is completed in one word, in this: Love your neighbor as yourself"

εσταυρωσαν (form of "σταυρoω", 5:24)   It is striking here that Paul says that Christians are actually doing the crucifying of the flesh. Normally these sorts of activities are done by God or left in the passive; here the verb is in the active.   First off, only those who are are of Christ can do this (vs 24) and the Spirit is guiding us (vs 25).  Clearly Paul puts this in terms of the trinity, but Paul does not let our own activity off the hook...

στοιχημεν ("walk", 5:25)   The word for walk here is "stoicheoo."  This word has a rather interesting meaning and related sets of words, but basically, it comes from the word for rows. The idea here is that to "walk" in the spirit here would mean to "assemble orderly ranks for walking."  In short, to walk in the Spirit is probably not as free as we think it is today.  It is certainly not as independent as we'd have it either.

Some reflections on preaching:  How do we convince people that freedom in Christ is true freedom, greater than their political, sexual and economic freedoms they find in our culture today?  Perhaps one way to show this is how our "freedoms" turn out not to be as freeing as we thought!

I also think the challenge with the word love is that people here love against a background of autonomy; I do not think any Biblical writer could possible imagine the extent to which people in our preaching audience view themselves as independent moral agents.  In short, I think the ancients viewed the moral task of life as taking one's place in the "circle of life", finding one's place within the complex matrix of human and divine relationships that exist.  I think modern Americans view the moral task as "finding oneself" and then maybe, just maybe, inserting oneself back into this moral matrix, but likely on one's own terms!  Sin was something that jeopardized one's place in this moral matrix; today sin is likely a failure to "let it go" and "be yourself."  Even if this is sounding like a rant...any discussion about Paul's notions of freedom (and love) must be restored to a far more communal way of approaching life than the individual notions we have today.

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