beginning with v 11
“See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand.”
There has been debate as to why Paul uses this phrase of “large letters.” I think, most probably, it means a kind of emphasis – Paul is saying that this whole letter is of the utmost importance and lots of points need highlighting, underlining – whatever method we would use today to stress importance and there are two very important points that Paul is stressing in this conclusion of his letter to the Galatians.
I would like to introduce these points via two stories.
Story 1 My friend’s little granddaughter enjoys her Bible stories. She asked grandma to read the story of “Jonah and the big fish,” as she calls it. When granny reached the part that said that the people of Ninevah had behaved badly, the little girl asked what they had done that was so naughty. After some thought granny replied, “Well, you see, they didn’t put their toys away.” The little girl was aghast and said, “That was so naughty! No wonder God was cross.” In her childish experience, she knew what “naughty” meant, and could compare it with being “good.” Part of being good, was “to put your toys away.” In v 9 Paul says,
“Let us not become weary in doing good…v10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people.”
How as grown –ups do we define good and its opposite – bad? Paul doesn’t define the word here, because he has spent a large part of the letter doing just that. Look across the page at Ch 5 v 19 - 26 where he gives us strong guidelines as to what is bad and good. How and why we practice being “good” depends on our belief and the choices that we make.” So the first point arising from this passage is what is good and how do we put it into practice?
Story 2 In the cookery examination room the candidates had been told to prepare a meal. One of the candidates had made a lemon meringue for desert and put it in the oven to finish off while she prepared other parts of the meal. The examiner announced that there was 10mins left and with horror the girl remembered the lemon meringue still in the oven. She opened the oven door to find a blackened mess and in a split second, scraped off the burnt meringue, whipped up a new one and as time was called pulled a perfect creation out of the oven , golden brown with towering peaks.
“What counts is a new creation…” says Paul. (v15b)
In the story the cook had obeyed all the rules and instructions, but the results were not what she needed to pass the exam. Human frailty had got in the way, so she had to show courage and initiative to make a new creation. Verses 12-15 are about obeying the rules – in this case it was the rule of circumcision. In order to be a proper Christian the rite of circumcision had to be obeyed. No! No! No! says Paul. It’s not about rules any more – what counts is being a new creation through faith. In ch 3 v 25, Paul says,
“Now that faith has come we are no longer under the supervision of the (Jewish) Law.”
The Law was important to lead us to Jesus so that now we can be justified by faith – all big Pauline themes we have pondered throughout this whole year. The cook whipped off the old, burnt meringue that would not achieve the required results and made a new creation. The examiner was pleased with her results and her initiative and the result was that she passed with honours.
Paul says that what counts is our becoming a new creation, but that brings us back to the point we reached at the end of the first story – how do we do this and how do we put it into practice? How do we make the choices that result in being and doing good – in other words in “putting our toys away,” as the child defined it. Let’s try and understand this by way of a third, sadly, true story.
3rd story This horrible account, that unfortunately is true, happened in America in Wyoming a decade or so ago. A young man, known to be gay, was leaving the university campus, when he was abducted by 3 young men who bungled him into a car, took him to a lonely country road, where they tied him to a fence and beat him up, leaving him to die. The gay student was tortured for who he was, by so called “doers of good.” Whatever made those young men think that what they were doing was right and proper and good? The answer is contained in just one word – very simple, but very, very powerful. That word is “belief.” The young men committed this atrocity, acted as judge, jury and executioner, because of their belief that gay people should not be allowed to walk the streets – they should be exterminated. Hitler had the same thoughts and belief that resulted in the holocaust– terrorists commit their atrocities because of their beliefs. And these beliefs are taught by society and religion.
It is so very true that our beliefs determine the way we think, act and behave and that is why Paul has spent so much time on faith and belief in this letter. All our behaviours are created by beliefs and we cannot make long term changes in behaviour without addressing the beliefs that underlie them. Societies that have, historically, caused the most upheaval in the world are those societies that have focused on beliefs – e.g. The Christian Crusades, The Spanish Inquisition, Nazism, The Mao tse Tung Communism. This is not to overlook the good practice has also been evident in the establishment of Church Schools in Victorian times and also the work of people like Dame Cicely Saunders, founder of the hospice centres for the terminally ill.
Paul is saying here that our belief in God and Jesus Christ should transform us into a new creation –enabling us to define and know how to practice what the word “good” truly means, as Paul shows us in the fruits of the Spirit, in Galatians 5 v 22-23.
In desperation, Nelson Mandella once believed that the way to end the cruelty of Apartheid was through violence against the perpetrators and thought sponsors action. Later he changed this belief and achieved the same result in a different, non-violent way. He put his belief into thoughts and taught them to others and became a shining light to his oppressed people and to the world.
The creed begins: I believe…and as we wend our way through it we are stating belief that should determine responsibility for our thoughts and actions – and this is precisely the point that Paul is making about Christian belief. We have the guidelines but we have to work it out the practice for ourselves. And it is playing out all around us:
1. In the friend who worked out a route for me to find an awkard spot.
2. 4 lovely new laid eggs on the doorstep.
3. The A51 jogger, in last Thurs. morning rush hour who noticed a milk crate in the road and retrieved it to prevent an accident.
We are to be encouraged by good, simple practice, giving thanks.
Our belief is an expression of our soul and mind. Tom Wright in his book “Virtue Reborn” tells us that our belief determines the kind of virtues we express and the good that we do until it becomes second nature – a complete way of being.
A final pause for thought. Herman Kummel was a doctor in the latter part of the 1800’s, who had a terrible time trying to convince other physicians that it was good practice to wash hands before surgery. The scrubbing up idea turned him into a laughing stock and he was practically driven out of his profession by those who refused to consider this new belief and therefore, put it into practice.
Humans have an incredible stubborn tendency to set beliefs and practices that can slow our evolutionary processes and hinder our spiritual growth. We have been given the capacity to listen, reason, discuss and broaden our understanding because we don’t have all the answers – the challenge is to keep searching, to keep working at being a new creation.
Well, the world would be a poorer place without exciting challenges to broaden our understanding and quality of life for ourselves and others, –but remember -“ be good - put your toys away.”