“Staying Out of Trouble?”
January 2, 2004
Texts: Galatians 6:11-18
Staying out of trouble seems like good advice. It works for the first day of school and for summer camp. It certainly fits for the parent seeing his child off to college, ”Remember, you’re here to get and education and. . .stay out of trouble.” But what’s good advice for such occasions is not good advice for all occasions. At least that’s what the Apostle Paul is saying to the foolish Galatians--those who, having heard the word of grace and of Christian liberty, had subsequently spiritually regressed. Regressed? Yes, they had regressed to a form of works righteousness. And the motivation of those who taught that Gentiles needed to keep the entire Law, and needed to submit to circumcision appears to have been motivated by a fear of persecution. Self-protectiveness replaced faithfulness as the driving force behind their faith. Because Jews, the circumcised, enjoyed recognition and therefore protection by the Romans, these teachers were hoping to help new Christians avoid, or escape persecution by observing Jewish customs alongside their new found faith. But to Paul this compromise was sheer cowardice. In other words, there are times when staying out of trouble is a very bad idea. It is faithless cowardice. Indeed, getting into trouble for the right reasons--being proud of your faith, wanting to glorify God, aiming at a life that counts for something-- are some of the best reasons to suffer persecution. Mat 5:11 "Blessed are you when men cast insults at you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, on account of Me. Mat 5:12 "Rejoice, and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Mat 5:13 "You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how will it be made salty again? It is good for nothing anymore, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men. Please note Jesus says when, not if. He also bids us to rejoice when persecution occurs. He says that it is honorable because we are standing in the tradition of the prophets of God. And this experience, being insulted and persecuted and slandered, is what establishes us as “the salt of the earth.” We are the tang, we are the preservative and we are an antiseptic! Salt stings and renders life savory. Jesus also teaches the inevitability of persecution in a saying about our reward for “leaving all and following Him“: Mark 10:29 Jesus said, "Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for My sake and for the gospel's sake, Mark 10:30 but that he shall receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life. Staying out of trouble doesn’t seem possible--looking for trouble is an entirely different thing. Knowing the difference is true wisdom.
Here’s Paul’s point: no one among the circumcised ever succeeded in the keeping the Law. The mere performance of external rites, mere compliance with the letter of the Law never saved anyone so why create the false impression that keeping the Law is a possibility? If keeping the Law is without spiritual benefit, indeed if keeping the Law is simply a put on, it is better to suffer persecution, it is better to get into trouble for the sake of the truth than it is to live a lie and enjoy the comforts of safety and acceptance. For Paul, as for us, it matters supremely who our audience is--is our life going to be pleasing to God, or pleasing to man? And if one has to choose between the two, what is the best choice? Getting in trouble for pleasing God wins hands down every time.
In this, as in all matters of doctrine, Paul is indistinguishable from his Master. From the perspective of the religious establishment, the Jewish folks in charge of Temple worship in Jerusalem, Jesus must have come across as the Lord of misrule. . .as a rule breaker, a rebel, and a disruptive influence. Now I want to be very careful here because I am not promoting trouble for the wrong reasons, but only for the right reasons. In Jesus’ case, the right reasons included being obedient to God. This was the “rule” by which Jesus lived and the basis upon which He defied the “rules of man.” Paul promotes living by the gospel of Christ--the “rule” of our liberty in Christ, or by the “law” of being a “new creature” in verse 16 as a form of obedience to God. He doesn’t want to boast anything except the cross of Christ--not in the performance of dead works in the flesh, by empty ritual or any other form of Jewish ceremonialism.
Jesus healed on the Sabbath out of obedience to God--even if that might get Him in trouble. He was performing the work of redeeming a fallen world just as the Father told Him to: where and when and how. This work God would not. will not rest from until the last vestiges of sin are eradicated from His Creation. Indeed, how can God rest from this work of restoration until the original goodness of His creation is re-established? Blindness was, for the man blind from birth, an obstacle to be removed; but so too was the spiritual blindness of the Pharisees--both were possible. But how often, all around us is the mental eye closed in moral night! The Pharisees had allowed their “moral seriousness” and even their “religion” to become a spiritual hindrance to living in the truth --they couldn‘t “see“ that love, expressed through divine, supernatural healing, was and always is appropriate, from God--even, no, especially if it did not fit with their “rules.” Jesus was turning their world upside down and making their piety look ridiculous. His stories exaggerated things, surely, a pious man sounding the trumpet before putting his tiny donation in the church box?! A Samaritan being chosen as man of the year? Who’d even seen, or heard such things? Camels going through the eye of a needle? Or being swallowed as easily as a gnat? Logs in the eye?! Idlers given full pay. . .stewards praised for being successful cheats? What could all of that have to do with religion, true, scriptural religion? Jesus was undermining the religious and the moral fabric of their society, He had to be stopped at all costs! He was opposing their whole solemn system of morality and religious observance with random displays of mercy, beauty and eternal love. That would never do. No, no, no, He was making 1st century Judaism look like a sham, a farce, or both. So, being the civic minded and serious folk they were, they arranged to have Him, God’s Jester, put away--crucified to be exact. It simply is impossible to get into more trouble than that! And for all the right reasons!
Then came the best part. God, the Eternal One, Creator of heaven and earth, had the last laugh--and that would be the greatest reversal of all time, I mean the resurrection. Caiaphas sat with all the power brokers of his day, complacent in their grave, dignified self-congratulation, thinking how they done the best they could for the sake of the nation. It was a nasty business, no doubt, and an injustice too nasty and unpleasant really for polite conversation; but that dangerous rube, that upstart clown from Nazareth of Galilee had to be disposed of, once for all. They thought Him safely dead--despite the bizarre occurrences that surround the execution--and they were determined to get back to the things that really mattered, the things-- noble and good in themselves as well as the mundane preoccupations of governance-- to which their lives were dedicated. When, behind their backs sort of, there He was again. Only now He is even more persuasive and influential than before and allegiances were suddenly flowing in a new direction. They tried to cover-up the matter, they tried to ignore it as if nothing had ever happened. And then He began to multiply as those who had been with Him began to act more like Him! Things were worse or, depending on your perspective better than ever.
Beloved, the resurrection was a huge comic gesture, a great and inescapable affirmation of life, an affirmation of light and truth, an affirmation of justice, bread and liberty! The contrast between the seriousness of man and the divine response is so immensely humorous--so full of laughter. By this laughter, I think, we are to gauge the words of Psalm 2:4: He who sits in the heavens laughs, The Lord scoffs at them. When you are supremely powerful and utterly merciful, you have no need to crush anyone. So, this is not a harsh, hard or, cynical laughter, I think; but one that clearly holds human folly in the kind derision it so richly deserves. The resurrection laughter of God is death-defying, grave-surmounting, completely wonderful, delightful, and, yes, kind. It is a sound to make us delirious with joy--with singing and dancing in the streets and cries of “He is risen!” Despite their collective cruelty, what the leadership received back for now at least was kindness. They were forgiven just as He had asked, for they knew not what they were doing--surely, they thought they knew what they were doing, but mercifully, for them, they did not. It was for the sake of the nation that Jesus died, but not in the sense they meant at all. . .no, not at all. And when God uses persecution in our lives, it rarely serves the purposes of those who persecuted us but it does serve the purposes of God!!
I think that it was the irrepressible joy and love of the Christians in the face of persecution that we are to hear resounding in Paul’s retort: But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me and I to the world.” Remember, how serious Paul had once mistakenly been? A Pharisee of the Pharisees! I must believe that he ever after kept his joy so as to be like Jesus:
Heb 12:1 Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, Heb 12:2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Heb 12:3 For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you may not grow weary and lose heart.
For the joy set before us, let us remember that we are a new creation also. And without undue self-importance, or weary seriousness, let us learn how to get into trouble, too--for all the right reasons. Keep your sense of humor. Be joyfully pro-life. Be happily heterosexual, delighting in marriage as it ought to be--despite its trails and testings--honoring, loving and respecting each other to the point where they want to know your secret! Win others to Christ by being entirely winsome. Keep the joy, keep that light touch. Remember from what you were redeemed and be entirely, wholesomely glad about it. There’s a terrible witness in coming across as if you regret becoming pure, moral, clean and straight! The lost hear overtones of envy in such double mindedness. Listen, it’s great if an alcoholic, or homosexual overcomes their sin by the power of Christ; but it’s a tragedy if they stop at that point. We all need to go on and become Christ-like--like Him in faithfulness and in joy, in the sheer delight of obedience! And as many as walk according to this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God. (v.16)
The term Israel of God in this verse is a wonderful, inclusive thing; it is also a hidden thing. So we are to live toward God--it’s the only safe thing. You never know exactly whom you are with, you might be addressing a fellow Israelite in the Israel of God--currently, he might be Jewish, or Muslim, or a New Ager, or a gay. You might get in trouble for saying so--for saying that he is actually something other than he thinks he is--others have. That changes nothing: a fellow Israelite is what he is. And, even if you aren’t addressing a fellow Israelite in the kingdom of Christ, you should behave with grace always because the Lord is always near--in your heart, if no one else’s. Strive today to be indistinguishable from your Master for, I tell you the truth, someday you surely shall be so like Him that others will even take you for Him. Therefore, be faithful above all else--never compromise the truth and brace yourself salt must be salty. And finally, because of all that Christ has done for and the forgiveness He has purchased for you, rejoice!
Phil 4:4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!
Phil 4:5 Let your forbearing spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near.
Phil 4:6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
Phil 4:7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.