A daily reflection drawing from Advent Bible passages – to help us grow as we live out our faith in the everyday moments of life.
I don’t know if anyone else grew up in a house full of star charts? My mum absolutely loved them! I had them for everything. They were very specific – I had one for not spilling food down myself, one for not saying the word, ‘yuk!’ at mealtimes, and one for flushing the toilet. The opposite of a star chart, I think, is probably something like the ‘warning sheet’ the Eden team sometimes resort to at youth clubs, and our rule on that is 3 strikes and you’re out, which is very sad. Going back though, to the way I relate and behave with my mum – something has changed, thankfully over time. So I’m still her daughter, very much, but it’s a long time since she gave me a star for flushing the toilet at her house. I just do that out of the goodness of my own heart. I don’t remember what age I was when I made that transition, but somewhere along the road from childhood to adult I started to come round to my mum’s point of view about toilets, and to do the right thing without needing a system to control my behaviour.
Today we’re looking at a bit of the letter Paul wrote to the Galatian Christians, and he’s been talking to them about the Jewish law. My mum’s star charts wouldn’t have stood a chance next to the Jewish law, it covered absolutely everything – very specific, and the Galatians, who weren’t Jews for the most part, but have started following Jesus, come into God’s family, and they’re starting to pick up the family history, and wondering if maybe they should take up the Jewish law?
So what’s Paul going to say? Paul knows all about the law, and he was a pretty big fan – or he was before he met Jesu – because he was actually doing pretty well at it. If the Jewish law was a star chart, Paul would have had pages full of stars and his warning sheet would have been squeaky clean. So maybe Paul’s writing to give them tips on how to do as well as he did? Well, actually, no. What he actually did is he call them idiots and he writes 6 chapters persuading them to look at the bigger picture of what God is doing across human history.
Paul says, the law was good in its day – it came from God, it’s going to be good. It kept humans in check, while humanity was younger. It was sort of damage control. Because you can’t just wait for small children to be inspired to flush the toilet or do anything else they’re meant to do, you can’t wait for them to do that out of the goodness of their own hearts, you put some sort of discipline, a system in place in the meantime. We were like children who needed a system to control our behaviour, or, put another way, we were like employees who only did the work because we were paid for it, or slaves, who did the work because we were scared to do anything else. But that was never meant to be how it worked forever. Paul says, in chapter 4v4- when the fullness of time had come, (when humans had metaphorically grown up, turned 18) God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And that is Christmas in a nutshell – that God sent forth Jesus, born of a woman, to redeem us, so that we might receive adoption.
He’s saying to the Galatian believers – don’t go back to the law! Jesus has been born under the law to redeem us from the law, so we can be adopted instead! The old rules are not for us, not now, not now the human race has reached adulthood and the Spirit of God has been poured out on all Gods family. Goodness doesn’t need to be imposed on us any more from the outside by systems, because the Spirit of God grows it in us, like fruit grows on a tree.
Do you ever, subconsciously maybe, treat your relationship with God a bit like a contract or a system? Maybe you have an imaginary star chart, where you think God takes a little more delight in you when you’re on a seven day Bible reading streak? Maybe you’re a little bit more self-critical and you have an imaginary warning sheet, and you are sure that there are only so many black marks you can have before he runs out of grace for you? If that’s you – stop it. Those things are good to do, but your Dad in heaven doesn’t want his relationship with you to be based on them. He loves his relationship with you and he doesn’t want it hijacked by you worrying you’ve done something wrong all the time, or running yourself ragged to impress him. He just loves you, you are in his family now, and that’s the end of it. If I’m not convincing you, try reading the rest of Galatians, that’s quite convincing. Or maybe just sit with the Father and use the words of chapter, four verse six. And that verse says God sends the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” – convincing us that we are his children. Ask him to do that for you.