“Gaining God’s Perspective”Dr. Gerald L. Borchert 2 Kings 5:1-16, 20-27 and Galatians 6: 1-16, Year C: The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
Getting the perspective of God clearly in mind has always been a difficult task for people. Skewing the divine perspective to fit our human wishes and perspectives has always been a problem.
In the Old Testament story from 2 Kings 5:1-16 Naaman, the Syrian General, who had leprosy came with a great entourage to be healed by Elisha. But the prophet did not even come out of the house to greet him. Instead, he sent a message to that foreign commander to go and wash in the Jordan River seven times and he would be healed. Naaman’s pride was crushed and he became incensed at the instructions to bathe in the little Israelite river. But after his officers convinced him to do such a thing that required a little humility, Naaman finally obeyed and he was healed.
In contrast Elisha’s servant, Gehazi, could not understand Elisha’s reluctance to accept the gifts from Naaman and to make a profit on the miracle. So, secretly he arranged to receive some of the gift but he soon learned that such an act was ill-advised because in punishment he was visited with Naaman’s dreaded leprosy (5:20-27).
When we turn to the story of the seventy disciples in Luke 10, who were sent out to do ministry, we learn that these followers of Jesus came back rejoicing because as they represented Jesus, even demons became subject to them. Yet Jesus had to remind them that their joy should not be based on their sense of authority over evil but on the fact that they had been accepted by God—namely they were heaven bound rather than the opposite (10:20).
These two stories provide a very fitting introduction to one of the great books of the New Testament.
You probably will recall that Martin Luther, one of the primary founders of the Protestant Reformation, had three books of the Bible that he regarded as very special in his life as a Christian. They were, of course, Romans, the Psalms and yes—the bombastic Letter to the Galatians.
As I indicated in my commentary and my work on the Portraits of Jesus for an Age of Biblical Illiteracy, Luther was so impressed with Galatians that he called that book his Katerina in honor of his wife, Katerina Von Boron. In addition, there is little doubt in my mind that Paul’s Galatians is the first surviving document we have in the New Testament and that it was penned before the Jerusalem Council which is mentioned in Acts15.
Galatians thus stands in history as the Christian’s Magana Carta on freedom. Employing Paul’s arguments in this letter (and not the reverse), the Council accepted the Gentiles as legitimate Christians on the basis of faith without the need for circumcision. That argument was so crucial to Paul that he punctuated this book twice with the severest of curses (anathema) on anyone, including any angel from heaven, who would advance a different gospel perspective (Gal 1:8-9).
Paul had been a radical for truth, as he understood it, while he was a Jewish rabbinical authority and he did not lose that zealous spirit when he became a disciple of Jesus. You will remember that he was willing to confront all the former disciples of Jesus including James, Peter and John and anyone else (including Barnabas) if they veered from the sufficiency of faith in Jesus as the basis for acceptance by God (2:9-14).
But, as our Scripture for today indicates, even though Paul was a naturally gifted fighter for the truth, his goal was not to fight other Christians. Nor did he encourage disputes among Christians. In fact, his goal was the exact opposite. And that is the reason this book can speak so powerfully to us today when parents are separating and leaving families shredded and when churches and denominations would rather fight on secondary issues rather than seeking understanding and working collegially for the extension of Christ’s mission to the world.
The basic problem with church wars on worship, the Bible and countless other issues is that Christians have not understood or listened correctly to Paul or Jesus. Don’t forget that Jesus attacked the knit-picking of the rabbis on the Bible and offered them instead a freeing experience of “walking”with God. And that is exactly what Paul was doing in Galatians.
It is, of course, true that Paul told the Galatians that they were “stupid” and that they had been bewitched into thinking that they could add their little Jewish-like Gentile rules in an attempt at making themselves more acceptable to God (3:1-5). But what they actually had done in the process was to create a religious pattern that destroyed the freedom that was given to them in Christ Jesus. Why else would Paul have thundered, “For freedom Christ has made you free?” (5:1).
Paul’s goal in Christ was not to develop a series of rules that might lead to further disputes and wars among Christians. His goal was to engender a new sense of freedom among believers and to build a new community of acceptance despite all their societal differences. Remember there was to be neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male and female in this new community of Christians (3:28). The church of Jesus was to be a free community where everything was marked by “love”—certainly not by argument, nor by biting and devouring each other (5:13-15)!
Paul’s stated purpose for Christians in their faith communities was for them to “walkby the Spirit” (5:16). Now to understand the serious implications of this idea of walking, I must take you back to the Old Testament and also back to the period of the rabbinic arguments, as I did in my Portraits of Jesus.(Please see my discussion of this issue in Gerald L. Borchert, “The Lord of Form and Freedom: A New Testament Perspective on Worship,” Review and Expositor, 80.1 (Winter1983), 5-18.)
Do you remember that God wanted to “walk” with Adam and Eve? Indeed, the divine one was said in Genesis 3:8 to have “walked” in the Garden and have called to those erring humans to join their Lord. But instead the humans hid because they had fractured their relationship with God, as well as between themselves. But even after this crucial fracture, God still wanted to walk with humans and Genesis indicates that God did so with: Enoch (5:22, 24), Noah (6:9), Abram/Abraham (17:1; 24:40) and Isaac (48:15).
Now that verb for “walk” in Hebrew is halak. Notice that Paul here in Galatians and throughout his epistles uses the Greek verbform of that word which is peripatein. But using that form leads me to remind you of what happened in the period of the Tannaim (the rabbis). The rabbis turned away from the dynamic verb for “walking” and changed it into a noun halakah! Thus, it became the way you walked or the content of your walk—namely, a series of 613 rules which the rabbis isolated out of the Torah.
Then those imperatives became the laws which people had to obey. Among those rules were the rules concerning Sabbath which the rabbis used to critique the healing work of Jesus. And the rabbis further argued that even God kept the Sabbath (Genesis 2:2-3). So, in focusing on such laws the rabbis sought to control the people—by insisting on them keeping the Sabbath according to their interpretations. If the people who did not obey those rules, they were to be put to death in accordance with the text of Exodus 21:14.
But Jesus was not bound by their interpretations of the Torah! He knew what God intended. The Sabbath for him was not a straight jacket; it was a gift to humans in order to draw near to God. Moreover, God was certainly not bound by human rules when he rested on the seventh day.
Therefore, Jesus—as the creator—claimed he was Lord of the Sabbath (Mark 2:27). Yet this statement which undoubtedly shocked the Pharisees did not mean that Jesus was an antinomian—a person against all laws. Jesus understood the purpose of the “rule of God” and he understood human needs as well as God’s longing for humans to be made whole.
That gave Jesus a great sense of freedom in a world filled with rules. So he was free to heal on the Sabbath (John 5:1-14), free to touch “unclean” lepers (Matt 8:3), and free to challenge the enshrined traditions of the rabbis (“You have heard…but I say” in Matt 5:21-48).
It was this wholesome spirit of freedom in Christ that captured the Apostle Paul and inspired him to write this magnificent Christian apology we call the Letter to the Galatians. It is with this understanding in mind that we are able to perceive the implications of Paul’s concluding remarks in Galatians. They are not a new set of rules for Christians. They are the implications of the great summons by Paul to live in Christian freedom that in chapter 5 begins with the complete rejection of circumcision as a contaminating yeast that distorts (5:9-11) Gentile freedom. Instead, Paul turned to advocating walking by the Spirit and rejecting the carnal ways of human desire (5:16) identified in a list of decadent human vices (5:19-21).
In rejecting these vices, which were also familiar in the Greek moral writings, Paul affirmed an opposing list of virtues which are rooted in the leading of the Spirit and begin with the Christian’s premier virtue of love (5:22)—obviously reflecting the similar perspective of Jesus that would later be detailed in the Gospel of John (cf. John 13:34-35; 15:12).
Then to amplify the significance of these virtues and what living by the Spirit might entail for his “not so discerning” readers, Paul first reminded them that these virtues are relational and involve the rejection of self-centeredness, jealousy and provoking of others (Gal 5:26).
The first ten verses of Galatians which are the focus of our study today. They involve some powerful pithy statements from Paul and are introduced by a series of Greek gars (“for”), which in my opinion resist a specific organizing principle. But the force of this section is quite clear.
Paul was calling the Galatians to evidence a genuine spirit of Christian humility in which they were to recognize their responsibility for their own actions (6:7) and to see their community of faith as a crucial context of living out their commitment to Christ Jesus (6:10).
They were instructed not to give up when their lives became difficult (6:9) and to avoid focusing attention on themselves. He knew that such a focus is very deceptive and can lead to false conceptions of people’s own worth.
Accordingly, the correct focus eliminates boasting as a Christian virtue (6:4). Instead, as a living community of faith, Christians should support and build up those who are in need (6:2).
Moreover, they are to evidence a genuine concern for those who have sinned and in a spirit of gentleness they should be engaged in the restoration of those who have succumbed to the deviant ways of the world. This positive concern for helping others deal with their sin he was sure would at the same time enable them to become more aware of their own frailties (6:1).
This concluding composite statement of advice from the great apostle—in which he councils the avoiding of self-interest and the advocating of authentic caring for others—provides readers with a brief glimpse into why Paul is such great model of integrity for Christians.
Yes, Paul was an incredibly forceful fighter for the authentic gospel of Jesus. But yes, Paul was also an exceedingly caring minister of Christ’s love for others. The letter to the Galatians showcases the marvelous portrait of this great servant of the Lord Jesus.
On the basis of these encouraging words to his deviant recipients, Paul brought his letter to a conclusion by reminding them that his ultimate purpose in life was to bring glory to nothing other than the cross of the Lord Jesus—the divine sign which remains God’s singular symbol for evaluation in the world (6:14). So, where do you stand in the light of that Cross? I pray that you will take up the cross and that you will follow Jesus as well as Paul in caring for others and proclaiming the powerful message of God’s saving grace in the world.
About the author: Gerald L. Borchert
Dr. Gerald L. Borchert is Senior Professor at Carson-Newman University (TN); Former Trustee, Emeritus Professor & Thesis Director at the Robert Webber Institute for Worship Studies (FL) was a Canadian lawyer who holds an honors Ph.D. from Princeton in New Testament and did post-doctoral work in Jerusalem, Cambridge, Hamburg, Duke, Boston and San Francisco.
He has taught at many schools throughout the world and been the dean of two American theological seminaries. A translator for the New Living Translation, he has penned over 200 articles and over 30 books including commentaries on John, Revelation, Galatians and Thessalonians as well as other works on Jesus, Assurance and Warning, Worship, Evangelism, Counseling, etc., and two Guides to visiting the Bible lands. His most recent work is Portraits of Jesus for an Age of Biblical illiteracy(Smyth & Helwys).
He is married to Doris Ann Cox, a retired seminary Professor of Christian Education and Ministry Supervision; the father of two sons: Mark, a Professor and Chair of Communications, and Tim, a Teacher of Students on Probation; two professional daughters-in-law; and four grandchildren.
Scripture and Music:
2 Kings 5:1-14
Isaiah 66:1-9, 10-14
Galatians 6:1-6, 7-16
Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
Rejoice, Give Thanks and Sing
We Shall Not Be Moved
Great Is Thy Faithfulness
We Are One in the Bond of Love
When I Survey the Wondrous Cross
On Jordan s Stormy Banks
Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven
In the Cross of Christ I Glory
Joy Comes in the Morning (David Danner)
Lift High the Cross (Carl Schalk)
Rejoice, Give Thanks and Sing (Dale Wood)
When I Survey the Wondrous Cross (Mallory or Martin)
Joy in the Morning (Natalie Sleeth)
O Master Let Me Walk with Thee (Paul Sjolund)
Here I Am, Lord