Welcome to Thursday’s Podcast our reading today is Galatians 4: 8-11. Today we’ll focus on verse 9.
But now that you know God—or rather are known by God—how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable forces? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again?
The apostle Paul has made it painfully clear to the Galatian Christians that they have the most joyous inheritance and freedom in Christ as ‘Sons and daughters…’ – we thought about that yesterday. In verses 8-11 he articulates his deep concern that they’re not living in their freedom. How does he does this? First, he paints the picture that that their life pre Jesus was one of slavery which is a powerful image which serves to make the most striking contrast to the freedom that comes from relationship with Jesus. And it’s an image that would have been very real & personal for the Galatian churches. Church members to whom the letter is addressed could have been slaves or were once slaves or even owned slaves. They would have known, first hand, that slaves have no freedom – very little control over their lives. Their lives are oriented around the needs of others. So, in verse 9 he asks: your pre Christ days were one of slavery. Now you’re changed – you’re free – why would want to go back to those old days of slavery?
In some ways this slavery image is quite hard for us to understand. The truth is that when you next Zoom with your home group you’re not likely to talk about how your slaves are getting on. While we know that slavery exists – in our city today – it’s distant from most of our lives. It’s a bit like the Jewish reference Paul uses. In the same way on your next Zoom call is Dave likely to say ‘guys how about when the lockdown’s lifted we all get circumcised’ or Mavis says ‘how about we all start learning Hebrew so that we can observe more Jewish rituals…’ So, how does Paul’s challenge about not slipping back into a slavery mindset have anything to do with us?
You see, in our context it might look like this: You look at other people’s lives – which is easy to do in the Lockdown because we’re all using screens more and more – and think “that person is a much better Christian than me. And look at what they do for home school. They have learned the Bible off by heart. They bake food for the poor every day and share it with all the homeless people with smiles.” Okay, I’m being silly – but seriously, if you’re like me you think – they do more. And do you know what, they may well do. It’s what you do with thought that’s the issue at hand. If it takes you down the, ‘God, they’re a first class Christian and I’m only a second class Christian’ route, then that’s a real problem. It’s the temptation to allow our perceived performance to set the value of our worth. Our broken human nature is always seeking some external affirmation to check our progress. For example, you see that family post their kids listening to STC church online. They’re sat in a row. Hands in the air and they’ve even had a family offering and they give over 10%. They shout Amen to Mick’s every point. And you think – my kids won’t get out of bed.
In our culture, in 2020 lockdown Sheffield – I’d say that our performance could become an idol – it can make us a slave to our own shame – therefore layering more unrealistic expectations upon ourselves and, do you know, it also makes us really judgemental because we compare ourselves to them by feeling better or worse.
You see that’s the root of the slavery Paul is talking about. Our temptation isn’t a return to Judaism. But it could be to a seek an identity which based on the idolatry of performance. Not upon the forgiveness & identity in Jesus.
I don’t know about you, but six weeks into lockdown and I’m learning all kinds of things about myself. Some of it isn’t nice. We’re under a bit pressure. Our liberties are curtailed. We don’t know when it will end. The list goes on…
So how do you deal with it? We remind ourselves daily – that before Jesus did anything amazing, we are told that he was loved and accepted. We start from the place of forgiveness. We don’t earn it. And when we’re tempted to review the day and all the things that got under our skin and look at our bomb site of a house or the emails answered where we are tempted to beat ourselves up, enslave ourselves because we didn’t perform…
We stop. We smile. And ah, Lord – I know what’s going on here. I’m going to take what you say about me over what I think about me. That’s much better. Father, you’re much better than me so help me to see me as you see me.
Lord you are so kind to us. Help us to not enslave ourselves with assessing our performance but to embrace your view of us.
BIBLE READING: Galatians 4:8-11
Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. But now that you know God – or rather are known by God – how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable forces? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you.