Daniel E. H. Bryant
First Christian Church, Eugene, Oregon
If you've been following along in our
study on Paul's letter to the Galatians the last few weeks, by
now the situation should be very clear -- that the gospel
message as proclaimed by Paul is under attack by a certain
group. That attack is coming not from Jews opposed to this new
Christian teaching (like the former Saul, before he became Paul,
seeking to purify the synagogue) -- rather it is Christian
missionaries who come from a Jewish background who believe that
these new Gentile converts of Paul's mission should also become
Jewish converts, thereby severely altering and curtailing Paul's
message of freedom in Christ.
And so in response, Paul defends his message, first of all by
defending his authority as an apostle who has received of the
gospel message directly from Christ in that vision, and secondly
by developing the concept of justification by faith -- the idea
that faith in Christ, or as
we saw last week in
that footnote that I highlighted, the faith of
Christ, that faith alone is sufficient to make us 'right' with
And so now we come to the climax of Paul's letter, and what I
think is one of the most radical statements in all of Scripture.
Earlier in Chapter 3 of this letter, Paul refers to the promise
of God to Abraham as the father of a new nation, a new people.
It comes some 430 years before the law is given to Moses. And so
Paul, in effect, is saying that if God's people can live that
long without the law, can we not as a people of faith today do
the same? Nevertheless, the law does serve a purpose, and he
describes that purpose briefly then in this text, reading from
versus 23 through 29 of Chapter 3:
Now before faith
came, we were
guarded under the
law until faith
would be revealed.
24Therefore the law
Christ came, so that
we might be
justified by faith.
25But now that faith
has come, we are no
longer subject to a
26for in Christ
Jesus you are all
children of God
through faith. 27As
many of you as were
baptized into Christ
Christ. 28There is
no longer Jew or
Greek, there is no
longer slave or
free, there is no
longer male and
female; for all of
you are one in
Christ Jesus. 29And
if you belong to
Christ, then you are
heirs according to
So I invite you to think deeply with me
about these three pairs of opposites that Paul uses to make his
argument of the unity in Christ, and what that says to us about
the faith in, or the faith of, Jesus.
First, there is no longer Jew or Greek. Ethnic divisions in the
ancient world were probably stronger than they are today, if we
can imagine such. But, the Jews weren't only ones who thought
the of the world in that way. There's us, and then there is
everybody else. I love the addition to the verse in 'Down by the
Riverside', that we're going to 'lay down our us and them' down
by the riverside. That was very old thinking, of course. Greeks
and Romans referred to other people as "barbarians". There's us,
and then there's the barbarians.
For those of us who may be going on the pilgrimage of the first
century that we hope to take next year (that will take us to
Turkey and Greece and Italy and the like), one of the things
that we will see is the way in which those barbarians are
consistently portrayed in Roman and Greek art as a subject of
defeated, and therefore inferior, people.
Secondly, there is no longer slave or free. Now, slavery, of
course, was an integral part of ancient economies. But it did
not have the same racial character that it took on in this
country. While Romans could not typically be slaves in the Roman
empire, just about anyone else could. One of the highly
sought-out slaves in every Roman household was a Greek who could
teach the classics of literature. So think about that -- a slave
who is highly educated in Greek literature and could pass on
that knowledge, especially to the children of that household.
So that slave typically held a pretty high standing, not just
within that family, but within society. The primary source of
slaves in that world came as spoils of war. And hence, slavery
could be very brutal as well. Especially for young boys, who
were prized by the Roman elite males for their sexual favors.
But slaves also could, and often did, purchase or earn their
freedom. And thus slavery was not necessarily a lifetime
sentence. Those who've been to Ephesus, or those who may be
going to Ephesus next year as part of that pilgrimage, we will
see one of the prominent features of that ancient city -- the
arch that symbolizes Ephesus that was built by a freed slave as
his tribute of thanks to the Emperor. So slavery was a
There is no longer male and female. Now,
set aside for a moment the peculiar change of the conjunction
here. Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female. I'll get
back to that in just a moment.
The division of gender is probably the greatest change we see
from the ancient society to our own. Women typically were not
citizens of those societies. They had no legal status. They were
rarely educated, they typically had no choice in whom to marry,
almost always dependent on men (either fathers or husbands, or
whoever the patriarch of the family was). One of the exceptions
in the New Testament that is so prominent in the story of Acts
is Lydia, the seller of purple goods. So there were those
But the cultural dominance of patriarchal tradition is evident
in the New Testament itself, by the virtue that the equality
that was practiced by Paul (of men and women) was reversed by
the time the letters of Timothy were written, to close the New
Testament period some 70 to 80 years later. And hence we have
those statements attributed to Paul (that were most certainly
not from Paul) telling women to be silent in the church and the
Now, Paul spent most of his energy on the first of these
opposites -- Jews or Greek. Not because the other two were not
important, but because the focus of his mission was on the
Gentiles. Or, as Paul calls them, the Greeks. And breaking that
division, or barrier, was a necessary prerequisite of his
mission, if his mission was to succeed. And given that emphasis,
and that the primary theme of this letter is freedom from the
law (namely, from living as a Jew in this Christian faith), why
does Paul even bring up these other two issues?
I mean, doesn't he have enough to worry about with just that
without taking on slavery and women's equality? Why even go
In 1967, when Martin Luther King started to speak out against
the war in Vietnam, remember what happened? His advisers tried
to stop him. Said, you know, what does civil rights have to do
with foreign policy? It might confuse the issue. It's hard
enough as it is, let's not complicate things.
If Paul had advisers like that, I would imagine they would have
said the same thing. 'Listen, Paul, we can't afford to alienate
slave owners, they are our wealthiest supporters'. Don't forget,
Jesus said if you want to be a first of all you must be a slave
to all. And as to this male and female thing, look at what we've
done for women already -- I mean, isn't it enough that women are
worshipping with us, and eating with us? We've gone further than
anyone else has before. I mean, if you keep talking like this,
the next thing you know, women are going to want to be
preachers. God forbid :).
So, why not keep our focus on Jews and Gentile, and not worry
about the rest? Now, who knows, maybe Paul had such advisers.
Probably Paul received that kind of criticism, and maybe that's
the reason why he does not make a big issue of the other two
issues. And even if Paul never used these three pairs again (he
does use two of them, by the way, in 1 Corinthians 12 -- slave
or Greek, Jew or Gentile, doesn't mention male and female in
that situation). But even if he didn't emphasize those other two
as much as he does the division between Jews and Gentiles, he
does use all three here not because they were the only three
divisions which would challenge the church over the centuries,
the only three divisions that concerned Paul, but because they
are precisely the three that most clearly illustrate the same
point: that we are one in Christ regardless of any such division
within the rest of the world that is around us.
And this is the idea, I think, is more radical than most
anything else in Scripture. Even loving our enemies. I mean,
think for a moment how deeply racial divisions remain within our
country 150 years after the Civil War, even after the election
of an African-American President, and compare that to how we
viewed Germans and Japanese during World War II, and even in the
decade or two thereafter. As compared to today, where they are
viewed as among our closest allies.
So my point is that it's often easier to love enemies than it is
to break down barriers of race and language and religion and
gender and sexual orientation and class and any other division
within society. Witness now the strife in Kurdistan that we see,
and how often we see that in so many other places.
We have some librarians working in our library to modernize in.
Kyoko is one of those helping out, with Jane and Sue Ree.
They've been weeding out old books, and so there's some boxes of
books there that we'll be including in our book sale, and if
you're interested you can go take a look. So they asked me to
take a look to make sure there weren't any gems in there, and I
found a couple. One that caught my attention was "This I
Believe" by Edward R. Murrow, the great journalist from 40-50
years ago. Many will remember that radio series (NPR has been
bringing it back occasionally), where leading citizens of the
world talk about their fundamental beliefs. And I was struck in
particular by one here from Dag Hammarskjold, who was the second
General Secretary of the United Nations. He was killed on a
peacekeeping mission in a plane crash, and in his briefcase they
found a copy of the charter of the United Nations (you'd expect
that from the General Secretary) a copy of the New Testament,
and a copy of the Psalms. That's all he carried with him. And he
writes of his fundamental beliefs, and he talks about his
parents, very appropriate for this Father's Day:
generations of soldiers and government officials on my
father's side (his father was the Prime Minister of Sweden
during World War I), I inherited a belief that no life was
more satisfactory than one of selfless service to your
country or humanity. This service requires sacrifice of all
personal interests, but likewise the courage to stand up
unflinchingly for your convictions. From scholars and
clergymen on my mother's side, I inherited a belief that in
the very radical sense of the Gospels, all men were equals
as children of God and should be met and treated by us as
our masters in God".
Hammarskjold refers to the Gospels rather than to Paul, but the
point is the same. And I think it is worthy for us to note that
this great world statesman, who gave his life in the quest for
peace, saw equality of humanity as a radical notion, 'very
radical', he says, based in the tenants of Christian faith.
Paul here refers not to equality but to unity, which I think is
even a higher standard to achieve. Look at our political parties
today in this country, more or less equal Republican and
Democrat, but they can't find unity within themselves, let alone
unity between them in some of the toughest issues that face our
The symbol that Paul uses for our unity in Christ is baptism.
Which in ancient times was done and the nude. The practice was
that you would disrobe, lose all of your old clothing, be
baptized, and you would be given a new robe. Symbolic of that
new life in Christ.
And so Paul speaks here of being 'clothed' in Christ in that
kind of sense. For Paul, this is much more than a metaphor for a
new spiritual reality. It represented a significant change, not
only in the life of the individual, but also in the life of the
So, last week I made this big deal out
of the footnote, in which the Greek preposition for 'in' can
also be translated 'of'. And by the way, you'll see the same
footnote in verse 22 just prior to our text for this morning,
where faith "in" Jesus Christ can equally be translated as faith
"of" Jesus Christ. Equally valid translations with significant
This morning I want to make a similar point, not with a
preposition but with a conjunction, as I promised.
Jew or Greek, slave or free, male AND female.
Now, here it's not because of the ambiguity of the translation,
the Greek is very clear -- one word for "or", a different word
for "and". So it's kind of peculiar -- why does Paul break the
pattern and switch to and?
It calls to mind Genesis 1:27: God created humankind, male and
female. God created them in his image. So how important is this
2,000 year-old ritual that we do, baptizing new disciples in the
name of of the Son, the Father, and the Holy Spirit? Alluding to
Genesis 1 is Paul's way of saying becoming one in Christ, taking
on this identity, is a whole new creation. It is a whole new
reality. It is as big and significant as creation itself. That
is how important it is.
Thus, through faith in, or through the faith of Jesus, you have
been made into a new being.
There's not much debate currently about a whole "don't ask,
don't tell" policy in the military. And people sometimes ask,
what's the church policy in these things? And I'll tell you: we
don't ask if you're a Republican or Democrat. We don't ask if
you're rich or poor. We don't ask if your blue-collar or white
collar. We don't ask if you're a citizen or an immigrant, legal
or not. We certainly don't ask if you're gay or straight.
You can tell all you want, but to be a member of this community,
of God's people, the only requirement, the only thing we ask is
have you been clothed in Christ? Have you taken on the faith of
Jesus as your own? That is all that matters when counting who
belongs to the body of Christ.
And so that what it means to be an open and affirming
congregation. It goes much further than simply not
discriminating. It is to embrace and welcome every person as God
made us, as a child of God, regardless for God made us. We are a
Now, I don't know how far Paul thought through what he was
doing. Sometimes I think 'Paul, you didn't think that through
all the way'. But doing away with centuries-old norms of social
convention? I do know this, he didn't say, for the sake of
unity, what we often say: "Let's agree to disagree", and then we
can get along. No, there's none of that wishy-washy
'pseudo-unity'. Instead, Paul makes his most forceful, strongest
argument based on our identity as Christian people to say "Let's
all agree, that when you go through that baptism, no other
division matters". Because you have taken on the clothing of
Christ. You have taken on the faith of Jesus.
Now, it seems just as crazy today as then. But I think that
Paul's vision for the church, where there are no divisions, no
hierarchies, no distinctions that separate us one from another,
I think he takes that from Jesus' vision for all humanity for
which the church is simply a model of what the world is to be.
What Jesus calls the kingdom of God. That is, how the world
would be if heaven came down to earth.
And Paul says, this is how such a world will look, right here.
With all kinds of people. All sizes and shapes and colors and
abilities and lifestyles, all working and sharing together,
along side of each other. Equal. United in Christ.
That is what we are called to do, and to be.
May it be.
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