galatians - week five

Here is the introductory page for Galatians chapter five and week five of our congregational conversation about Paul's Letter to the Galatians ...

In preparation for our time together read Galatians, chapter five. Note your own questions and insights. Bring them with you to our conversation. Consider these statements and questions:

What does life look like when one has “fallen away from grace” ? What typifies a church that has “cut itself off from Christ”? (Gal. 4). How do you interpret the phrase: “For through the Spirit, by faith, we eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.” (Gal. 5:5)?

“The word “love,” as either a verb or a noun (Greek agape, agapao), occurs five times in Galatians, all but one of these (2:20) in 5:6-22. Although other words appear more frequently (such as “faith” and “Abraham” and “justification”) and have been traditionally associated with the theme and key concerns of Galatians, love is in fact a central focus of the letter .... Thus for Paul the essential issue at Galatia and the crux of his argument is not the presence or meaning of faith itself, but the credibility of his Law-free gospel, and thus of the sufficiency of the Spirit of the faithful Messiah, as a means to embodying the will of God in daily life. That is, Galatians is about the connection between faith - as preached by Paul - and love. Ultimately, that means the letter is about the connection between the cross and the Spirit.” (Michael J. Gorman, “Cruciformity: Paul’s Narrative Spirituality of the Cross”, Eerdmans, 2001, p. 219).

Find the four verses in Galatians five that speak of “love.” How do you summarise Paul’s message about love?  What does Michael Gorman mean when he says that Galatians “is about the connection between the cross and the Spirit”?

“Paul connects the peace of the community with the metaphysical Spirit in a way that the English does not show. Pneuma (from which we have “pneumatic”) means both Spirit and physical breath. What is most essential for life is most free, most natural, and most shared. In the Hebrew Bible, the Spirit (ruach) of God comes to the entire nation, bringing his kingdom. Flesh, or sarx, on the other hand, either is just an object or it is animal life with its unthinking drives. Animals tear at one another, eat one another. Since the polytheists tended to distinguish the sarx sharply from the mind, it was also a good word for a dead body. A large coffin was a sarcophagus, or “flesh eater.” Paul’s point is not that the body or nature is bad and the mind or spirit good. It is about two ways of using the body, the one for a life that is worth living forever, the other for a life that is as good as death in the short time before it vanishes. The passage is not an angry homily but a shout to people standing hesitant on a thirtieth-story ledge. Community is life. The failure of community is death. Paul is writing that he cannot let his followers die. But what best expresses this urgency is the image of crucifixion. This is what Christ did to save humankind from death. And the metaphor of “crucifying” antisocial passions makes that sacrifice seem to spill over from the metaphysical realm to the natural one: believers get not only eternal life but a life of the Spirit in community that begins right now. Christ stopped at nothing in showing his love for humanity. On his example, people must stop at nothing in showing love for one another. They must eliminate, at any cost, the selfishness that divides them.” (Sarah Ruden, “Paul Among the People: The Apostle Reinterpreted and Reimagined in His Own Time”, Image Books, 2010, pp. 40-41).

Paul encourages the Galatians to “live by the Spirit” (5:16) and to “be guided by the Spirit” (5:25). What signs reveal that a church is living - and being guided - by the Spirit?

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