Things Left Unsaid (Galatians 1:1-10)

Have you ever noticed that sometimes what’s not said carries more weight than what is said? I experience this fairly regularly these days when I step out of my room and say to my teenage daughters, “What do you think of this outfit?” Silence is always a bad sign. It usually means I’ve committed a major fashion foul, and they are considering if they even want to be seen with me.

On a way more serious matter, there is a silence on Paul’s part as he starts off his letter to the Galatians, and though what he doesn’t say is weighty, what he does say (and will reinforce throughout his letter) is of first importance and has the power to bring freedom to the most burdened of hearts.

What Paul Doesn’t Say

Something that many commentators point out about the beginning of Paul’s letter to the Galatians is that Paul does not follow his usual pattern: greeting, grace and peace, and then thankfulness. In this letter he omits being thankful for them. Even the messy, dysfunctional church at Corinth gets a word of thankfulness from Paul (I Cor 1.4-9). While we have to limit our assumptions a little bit here, Paul’s omission and his almost immediate jump to “I am astonished…” presses on us a sense that “deserting” Christ for a distorted gospel (as well as teaching a distorted gospel) are deeply grievous offenses.

What Paul Does Say

Though thankfulness is notably missing in the space between Paul’s greeting and the start of his rebuke, the gospel is not. In verses 3, 4, and 5, Paul does not fail to articulate the true gospel. This, after all, is what the Galatians need. It would be nice if Paul were thankful for their faith and their love toward all the saints (Eph 1.15-16) or for their partnership in the gospel (Phil 1.5), but the gospel is what is really at stake here.

So, before he starts in with his astonishment, Paul extends grace and peace to the Galatians from God the Father and the Lord Jesus, reminding them that Jesus gave himself for their sins and to deliver them from the present evil age—he gave himself according to God’s will so that they would have peace with God, could experience his love and grace, and could be set free. Though the bad news (a serious rebuke) is coming, Paul gave them the good news first.

The Good News First

In this letter, Paul is talking to Christians—people who have already believed the gospel. People like me—and maybe like you? At times in our journey, we will inevitably distort the gospel or be tempted to follow a “gospel” that sounds really good to us, but is not the true gospel. We will need to be reminded of the good news—the gospel. Reminded that we didn’t earn our place in the kingdom; it was freely given. Reminded that we don’t have to perform to keep our place in the family; we are adopted by his blood. Thankfully, in this matter, Jesus is not silent. He always gives us the good news first.

Your Turn

  • In what ways have you been striving to earn God’s approval? In what ways have you believed you aren’t good enough to be in God’s family?
  • What distorted gospels have you been believing? “I’ll be a better Christian if…” “God will love me more if…”
  • Have you ever accepted the Good News that Jesus came, lived a perfect life, died in your place, and paid for you to have peace and loving relationship with God? Maybe you need to do this first?
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“I Believe. Help My Unbelief.” (Hebrews 3:7-19)

“…Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son.” (Heb 3:6). I’m going to say that again, “Christ is faithful.” Let that wash over you for just a moment. If you’re like me, you live much of your Christian life operating under the idea that it’s you who has to be faithful. But let me tell you this: any faithfulness you have flows out of Jesus’ faithfulness to you—and he is faithful to those who belong to him. So, when we “hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope” we are demonstrating our belonging to him; we are assured we are in his house.

With verse 6 in mind, we can look at verse 7, which starts with a hearty “therefore” and proceeds with a warning taken from Psalm 95. “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts…” And the writer of Hebrews will say this two more times. He is reminding us that we’ve seen this story before—we know how this plays out. God’s people, Israel, were in the desert testing him (Exodus 17:1-7), and God patiently proved himself time and again. But they didn’t listen; they didn’t trust him. “They went astray in their hearts and did not know his ways.” (v. 10)

If you’re like me, you live much of your Christian life operating under the idea that it’s you who has to be faithful. But let me tell you this: any faithfulness you have flows out of Jesus’ faithfulness to you.

In the desert, the people focused on their circumstances rather than believing God’s promise. (Am I alone? Or does this sound familiar?) They even wanted to go back to their slavery because somehow that seemed better—at least slavery was predictable. The road to redemption is never easy. Ask anyone who has wrestled to bring some shameful, besetting sin to the foot of the cross. Ask Jesus, who walked the road of redemption through his suffering creation to pay for all those sins. That generation did not enter God’s rest—not because they couldn’t tough out their situation, but because they didn’t believe.

Unbelief. It’s a surprisingly benign word for such an insidious heart condition.

My husband is a firefighter-EMT. There are some professions that give you a very real sense of how broken this world is, and firefighter-EMT is one of them. One season, he went on several particularly tragic calls in a row—two sets of parents who lost children, a young man who took his own life, a marriage so sick that it ended in a scene Quentin Tarantino couldn’t conjure. “Career-enders” as they call these types of calls. I saw my husband trying to white-knuckle his way through that season, trying to tough it out and forgetting that God could be trusted. He was buried in the circumstances, and he dreaded going to work. But by God’s grace, through the exhortation of some of his brothers in the faith, and by holding to his original confidence in God and His goodness, my husband came through that season.

Unbelief. It’s a surprisingly benign word for such an insidious heart condition. It’s not an ugly word like rape, murder, gluttony, or deceit—words that instinctively register as negative in the conscience of most people. In John 6:29, Jesus says the work of God is to believe in the one he has sent. In Luke 9:24, the father of a demon possessed boy says to Jesus, “I believe. Help my unbelief.” And here in Hebrews 3, the author says Israel was unable to enter God’s rest because of unbelief. One of our biggest struggles (maybe it is our biggest struggle) is to believe—to believe that Jesus is who he said he is, to believe that he has forgiven us of all our sin, to believe that he is ruling and reigning even when things don’t make sense to us, to believe that he loves us with a,

“Never stopping, never giving up, unbreaking, always and forever love.”
—Sally Lloyd-Jones

Therefore, the warning, “take care my brothers…” is very necessary—there is a precedent for it. Sin is deceitful; it can harden our hearts; it can cause unbelief; it can rob us of God’s rest. And instruction is necessary too:

God has spoken by his Son, so our hearts cry, “Jesus I believe! Help my unbelief!”

Your Turn

  • What sin are you a slave to or do you keep going back to? What might it look like to walk the road of redemption in regard to that sin?
  • What circumstances are you toughing out on your own? Who might you call on to exhort you?
  • What are some promises God has for his children? How do they encourage you?

Consider Jesus (Hebrews 3:1-6)

“Jesus was a hippie who got good press.” I’m not sure who coined this phrase, but it captures what a lot of people think about who Jesus was—a long-haired, barefoot guy who walked around talking about love, and who someone wrote a book about. In the first part of Hebrews 3, the writer invites those “who share in a heavenly calling” to “consider Jesus”.

A heavenly calling

If you are a follower of Jesus that calling is heavenly. It originated from God—not from your own conscience or creativity, but from God. He chose you before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4). God who, as the hymn writer, Walter C. Smith, says is

Immortal
Invisible
The only One who is wise
Blinding light
Most blessed
Most glorious
The Ancient of Days
Almighty
Victorious
Worthy of praise

And that’s just the first verse. Your calling is heavenly—it came from heaven, it is the hope that you have in Christ in this life, it is the home you will go to when your time here is done. Praise Jesus!

Then when on earth I breathe no more
The prayer oft mixed with tears before
I’ll sing upon a happier shore
Thy will be done.
—Charlotte Elliott

The writer of Hebrews tells those of us who have this calling to consider Jesus—we are to consider him more than just a great moral teacher, more than just a historical figure, more than a prophet or priest.

  • He is the apostle and high priest of what we believe.
  • He is worthy of more glory than Moses.
  • He is the builder of all things.
  • He is the faithful Son.

Greater than Moses

Undeniably, Moses was a great man. Exodus 33:11 says, “the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.” Wow! But God chose Moses to be His servant by his grace, and the purpose of Moses’ life was not to become a great man, but to give testimony to Jesus. Just like Jesus, Moses

  • Was born under the threat of death but protected by God.
  • Was raised in splendor, but he came down from his position of honor to be with his people.
  • Delivered his people from slavery and led them to the Promised Land.

But unlike Jesus, Moses was a sinful man. He had great need for the savior he was pointing to—just like we do. This is why the writer of Hebrews tells us to “consider Jesus”.

Your Turn

  • Who is Jesus to you? Has this view changed over the course of your life? Why does what you believe about him matter?
  • Have you ever thought of your calling to relationship with Jesus as heavenly? How does this encourage you?

Fully Qualified (Hebrews 2:10-18)

Almost every job posting you look at has a list of qualifications. It’s a way for the applicant to determine if they should even bother applying for the job, but this list doesn’t fully qualify you for the job. The truth is you’re not fully qualified until you’ve actually done the job. Your resume may be a perfect fit, but it’s getting in there and doing it that makes you the most qualified person for the job.

Jesus had a perfect resume, but it was fitting that God sent him here and “perfected” (fully qualified) him to be

The founder of our salvation
Our brother
The destroyer of death
Our merciful high priest

Founder of our salvation

It was fitting—it made perfect sense—that Jesus would walk down the path of suffering and be perfected through it. Why? Because He was all in for us—all in for every human experience. And a real human experience for those who follow Him is sanctification—perfection through suffering. As we live this Christian life, by His grace we are being sanctified, and I think we can all agree this is not always a walk in the park. The Westminster Shorter Catechism says that sanctification is the process of dying to ourselves more and more. In John 17:17, Jesus prayed that we would be sanctified in the truth—God’s word.  Jesus didn’t pray that we’d be happy and comfortable. He prayed that the truth of God’s word would kill our sinful nature. And he knew that would be a painful, ugly process sometimes—He knew because he bore the crushing weight of our sin on his body. He knew because he is the founder of our salvation.

Jesus didn’t pray that we’d be happy and comfortable. He prayed that the truth of God’s word would kill our sinful nature.

Our brother

This is why He’s not ashamed to call us his brother. Did you catch that? Jesus—creator, eternal, sitting at God’s right hand, God—unashamedly calls us family. Have you ever had that family member you were embarrassed to be associated with? Maybe you’ve felt like you are that family member that no one wants to acknowledge. Well, not with Jesus—there are no black sheep in His family.

Destroyer of death

Because Jesus has tasted death and made us family, he is fully qualified to “destroy the power of death—the devil”. Though we will experience physical death, there is no power in it—the wages of sin is death, but Jesus has paid them in full. The devil can no longer act as our accuser (Col 2:14-15)—Jesus has delivered us from the soul-crushing, enslaving fear of death. Satan loves hopeless and fearful people—they are easy to ensnare, they are easy to embitter, they are easy to paralyze.

We can all breathe a collectively huge sigh of relief because Jesus has destroyed the power of death.

When I was little, I went to a workshop with my mom about poisonous household plants. I ended up figuring out that one of the plants in our house (and it was large for a house plant, taller than me at the time) was poisonous. Even the tiniest piece of this plant would cause a swift and horrific death. I developed such a fear of this plant I wouldn’t go in the same room with it; I had nightmares about accidentally eating a piece of it and my throat swelling shut and suffocating me. Over a few weeks, this fear became all-consuming. Finally, I told my mom about it. She threw away the plant. This is what Jesus has done with the power of death. We can all breathe a collectively huge sigh of relief (bigger than I did when my mom got rid of the plant) because Jesus has destroyed the power of death.

Our merciful and faithful high priest

In the Old Testament, the priests were set apart from the rest of the nation of Israel for special service to God and the people. They were chosen by God’s grace to “make propitiation for the sins of the people”. It’s a long story (it takes the whole Bible to tell it properly), but to get at this word “propitiation” the basic story is that our holy, just, good, almighty, creator God has every right and reason to be angry (beyond angry, really) at sinful humans. If you propitiate someone, you appease them or satisfy them in order to assuage their anger. The role of the priest was to present offerings to God on behalf of the people to satisfy his wrath. Jesus has become the high priest for us. God’s wrath was poured out on him—he consumed it; he appeased it completely; he fully satisfied it. He is our merciful and faithful high priest.

Your Turn

  • In what area is God sanctifying you? Is it painful? How is that fact that Jesus was perfected through suffering comforting to you?
  • Are you fearful? Of what? Why? How might this be affecting you spiritually?
  • Do you ever buy into the lie that God is still mad at you? If you are in Christ, this isn’t true. How does this passage reassure you?

Pay Much Closer Attention (Hebrews 2:1-9)

 

God has spoken by his Son. His Son who is

Creator
Eternal
Sitting at God’s right hand

His Son who is God. This is an amazing truth. In chapter 2, we see the implications of this truth. The writer starts this chapter with one of my favorite words in scripture: “therefore”. The word “therefore” always heightens my expectation. It is a word that connects the why to the how, the heart to the hands, the indicative to the imperative. And here’s what the writer tells us, “Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.” It is a reliable message; it’s a message none of us can afford to neglect. Seems simple, doesn’t it? But I, for one, am easily distracted.

So what have I been paying close attention to? Lately, it’s been Facebook, negative bloggers, and others who’ve been tearing apart my church and trying to bring down my pastor. Their messages have made me ashamed. I’ve found myself not wanting to mention the name of my church and hoping that people will stop asking me questions.

But then I realized I’ve paid close attention to the wrong messages—to the messages that say,

“Your church should meet all your expectations.”
“Your pastor should be the perfect example of Christian living.”
“You shouldn’t have to put up with the failings of your church.”
“There are other churches out there doing it better.”
“You don’t want the church you attend to tarnish your reputation.”
“It would be easier and less messy if you just left.”

Those are not the messages the writer of Hebrews is urging me to pay much closer attention to. I need to pay attention to the message I have heard—the message about Jesus, and so the writer puts Jesus before me again.

…he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. Hebrews 2:8-9

What comfort, what conviction!

  • Nothing is outside Jesus’ control, even if it doesn’t look that way right now. He is not surprised by any of my circumstances.
  • In the midst of whatever I’m going through, I see Jesus—who also suffered, but who was crowned with glory. And God has this in mind for his people as well (James 1:12).
  • Jesus tasted death for everyone. When I feel angry toward those causing so much hurt, especially those who claim to be brothers and sisters, or when I start feeling ashamed of my church or my pastor, this is the great equalizer. We are all sinful; He tasted death for us all.

It is Him I stake my hope, my life, and my reputation on. That is the message I must pay much closer attention to.

 Your Turn

  • What messages are you paying close attention to? How might those messages be incorrectly shaping your view of God, Jesus, yourself, and others?
  • Have you ever considered that nothing is outside God’s control? How does this change your perspective?

Actions Speak as Loud as Words (Hebrews 1)

Yes, I purposely misquoted the old adage, “Actions speak louder than words.” Why? Because I’m not so sure it’s true. Lately I’ve seen words have a pretty profound impact—most of it not in a good way. But God, in His goodness, has brought me to Hebrews for a season. There is a boat load of truth packed into this book, but here is what’s hitting me in this first chapter: God spoke. And He spoke in word and action.

He spoke to our fathers by the prophets.
He has spoken to us by his Son.
He upholds the universe by the word of his power.

And then the writer of Hebrews restates some of the words that God had already spoken about Jesus in the Psalms:

He is God’s Son.
Let all the angels worship him.
His throne is forever.
He laid the foundation of the earth from the beginning.

God spoke. He was speaking from the beginning, “And God said…” He’s been speaking ever since. He’s been telling us the story of his Son—the one who was promised, the one who lived a perfect life, the one who gave that perfect life to save undeserving people.

He foretold the Story through the prophets.
He displayed the Story through the incarnate Christ.
He writes the Story on the tablet of our hearts.
He reminds us of the Story through His Word.
He continues the Story by the Spirit he placed in his people.

There are times when I just so badly want God to “speak” to me—to give me an answer to some specific problem, to make me feel better when something has me down. And now I realize, he has spoken by His Son who loves me—who loves me in word and in action.

Your Turn

  • What have you been asking God to speak to you about?
  • How have you been ignoring the ways in which he has already spoken? Have you been avoiding time in his Word, the community of believers, hearing his Word preached? Why?
  • What voices have you been substituting for his voice?