One Cup, One Loaf, One People

Please read 1 Corinthians 10:14-22 in your Bible.

One Cup One Loaf One PeopleImage by James Best, (C) 2020,

There is more to the Lord’s Supper than a cup and some bread.

      It’s hard for us to appreciate the first Christians’ dilemma over idolatry.  We don’t live in a situation where the government overtly misuses its power to promote any kind of religion.  If we disagree with someone over a religious issue, there will very likely be no chance of getting thrown into jail for it.  It is not a life-or-death issue for us.  Our culture has so privatized religion that the “don’t ask – don’t tell rule” is nearly  universal.

All that to say this: we experience very little direct pressure to compromise our faith.  But the first Christians practiced a faith that was declared illegal.  At first, Rome considered them a sect of Judaism and thereby legal.  The Jews wasted little time in changing that opinion and the first Church lost the protection they’d had before.  The first Christians were disliked by both the Jews and the Romans, suffering persecution by both.

To do business of any kind, either as a worker or a consumer, they had to come into contact with people who were given to idol worship.  To buy meat at the market was to take a chance that it had previously been offered to an idol.  To go to someone’s home for a meal meant taking that same chance.  To be part of a trade guild you were expected to join in the worship of the guild’s favorite god.  People were required to publicly offer incense to honor Caesar, sometimes in a temple constructed for that purpose.  To refuse invited persecution and perhaps risked death.

Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges says A return to the main argument in ch. 8. An idol is nothing, and meats offered to idols are nothing; but idolatry is a deadly sin, and so also is whatever tends to promote it.” (Retrieved from

  1. Command #1: Flee from idolatry. (14-17)

How do we FLEE from idolatry? Verse fourteen provides both the command and the means to keep it. The word THEREFORE requires you to read the previous verses to see what it’s “there for.”  In this case, we don’t have to read any more than verse thirteen to find the reason for THEREFORE and the answer to our question.  Verse thirteen promises two things:

– One, God is faithful to avoid testing us beyond our limits.  Obviously, He knows our limits better than we do.

– Two, He will always provide us with A WAY OUT so that we can STAND UP UNDER the temptation; that is, resist it by escaping it.

We FLEE from idolatry in the same way we avoid all other temptations, by taking the WAY OUT God has provided us.  It is not a matter of gritting our teeth, it is having the faith and good sense to follow God’s lead.  The Greek visualizes a person turning around and running in the opposite direction.

The virtue of being SENSIBLE gives one the freedom to judge for one’s self (15).  Interestingly, on this occasion Paul did not base his teaching on a revelation from Jesus nor did he did not exercise his authority as an apostle.  Instead he appealed to their reason or common sense.

This fact alone helps us understand the priority of the issue of meat offered to idols.  There are three levels of issues when we apply the teaching of the Bible.

The first and greatest priority we might call “Law.”  These are direct commands from God.  They are the parts of doctrine that qualify a person for having a true, saving faith.  There can be no compromise on matters of Law.  An example would be Jesus’ sacrificial death and resurrection.  We have no salvation if we deny or dilute that doctrine.  In this case, Paul introduced the truth with “What I received from the Lord I also passed on to you…” (1 Corinthians 11:22).

The second priority we call “Principle.”  Derived from the Law, Principles are applications of the core teachings to our attitudes and actions.  As they are a mixture of God’s word and good sense, there is more room for discussion here, and legitimate differences may be allowed.  An example would be the Lord’s Supper.  We are commanded to observe it and so we do.  In this case, Paul introduced the truth with “This is our practice in our churches” (1 Corinthians 11:16).

The third priority we could call “Freedom.”  One step removed from Principle, these are issues where the Word of God provides little or no direction, so we rely on enlightened reason.  This is called “Freedom” because without specific Law or Principle, we are more free to make up our own minds.  Continuing with the previous example, we have no choice in whether or not to have the Lord’s Supper, but we have perfect Freedom to choose how often we have it and the way in which we observe it.  In fact, you find a lot of diversity in the various denominations as to the frequency and methods of Communion.  In this case, Paul introduced the truth as a matter of good sense, as he did here in 1 Corinthians 10:15.

Clearly, Paul has put the issue of whether or not to eat meat offered to idols in the third category.  It simply was not worth the level of controversy it had received in the Corinthian church.

FLEE to Jesus: participate in the BLOOD & BODY of Jesus (16-17).  Repentance requires turning our back on sin, but it also requires taking steps in the opposite direction, toward Jesus.  In verse sixteen Paul reaffirmed that the CUP OF THANKSGIVING is our PARTICIPATION in the BLOOD OF CHRIST and the BREAD our PARTICIPATION in the BODY OF CHRIST?  PARTICIPATION is koinonia, fellowship of the highest kind.  Some of our Christian brothers take these words literally and say that the communion elements supernaturally become the body and blood of Jesus.

We take this to be a purely symbolic or spiritual level of PARTICIPATION.  This makes more sense to me as Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper on a night BEFORE His body was crucified and His blood spilled.  As He meant it then to be symbolic, there is no reason for us to take it literally now.  I would consider these differences to be a third level issue, allowing for a great deal of difference of opinion.

In verse seventeen Paul emphasized the unity that is to come through the sharing of the Lord’s Supper. As we observed recently, “breaking bread” is a figure of speech for fellowship and hospitality.  That’s why Paul refers to the ONE LOAF in this verse.  It’s a shame that the history of the Church shows division over the Lord’s Supper, not unity.

His repeated use of the number one emphasizes the unity that individual churches and the Church around the world is supposed to enjoy because of the Lord’s Supper.  ONE LOAF, in his mind, is symbolic of how diverse peoples in diverse places are actually ONE BODY.  It is one of the shameful facts of church history that we have allowed different methods and doctrines of Communion to divide us.

Here in 1 Corinthians, Paul is using the Lord’s Supper as not only a symbol of unity, but also a supernaturally powered means of maintaining unity.  He did not want the Corinthians to split over the issue of meat offered to idols, so he told them to flee from idolatry and to flee to Jesus.

We might say that idolatry being a sin in a first priority truth, a Law, but the issue of meat offered to idols was a third priority truth, a matter of freedom.  It was certainly not an issue that should cause a split in the church.

  1. Command #2: Consider the example set by the people of Israel. (18-22)

The Old Testament Law gave to the persons offering it a portion of a sacrifice for use as a family meal (verse eighteen, see also Leviticus 7:11-34.)  This is the third time Paul has asked a rhetorical question with the expected answer being “Yes.”  This was typically one of the few times in the year the majority of Israelites had meat to eat.  Both the act of worship and the meal helped create unity among the families of Israel and each individual family at their table.

Paul is setting up a contrast.  Persons who offered a sacrifice to God were participants in an act of worship.  They ate a portion of the animal sacrificed.

By contrast, the Corinthians did not participate in the sacrifice of an animal to an idol, they simply came in contact with the meat because pagan practices allowed the sale of the leftover meat.

Though meat was sacrificed to idols in a similar way, the two were, spiritually speaking, completely different (19-22).  Anyone in the Corinthian church who made a big deal of this issue might be considered to be giving more importance to idols and sacrifice to them (19).  This was a review; Paul answered this question in 8:4.  An idol has a physical reality as a hunk of wood, stone, or metal.  But it has no spiritual reality in itself.  It’s just a deaf and dumb thing.

Paul answered verse nineteen’s question a second time in verse twenty with a “NO.”  The people making an issue of meat were missing the point.  The issue was not the meat, but the act of worshiping an idol.  Idol worship is a Law level offense and is very serious.  Purchasing or eating the meat coming from such a sacrifice is only a matter of Freedom.

Paul’s advice was to let one’s conscience be one’s guide.  However, there were two principles to guide such a decision: we find them in vs. 31-33.

– One, do everything – including mealtime – to the GLORY OF GOD.

– Two, avoid causing a brother to STUMBLE.  Don’t cause offense on this trivial matter if you can avoid it.  Demonstrate its triviality by allowing concern for others to dictate your actions.

To reinforce his point on the Law forbidding idol worship, Paul pointed out a person is not permitted to worship God on one occasion and worship demons on another (21).  This identifies DEMONS as the true spiritual reality behind idols.  Idol worship is not a benign folly; it is a serious spiritual offense against God and it brings a person into fellowship with spiritual evil.  People who are truly God’s people will not compromise on this point.  The Lord and the devil are enemies.  No one who claims Jesus has any part to play with demons.

Verse 22 asks a pair of rhetorical questions that have an expected answer of “No.”  Here Paul adds emotional emphasis to the reasonable arguments he has just made.  He’s saying, “Do you think you can defy the Lord’s commands by messing around with idols?  Do you think you are strong enough to survive His wrath?”

It’s silly to think we could make Jesus love us more by being more vile sinners.  God has already declared he is jealous for us (Exodus 20:5), so why even attempt to arouse His JEALOUSY?  It is equal folly to think we are as strong as Christ, it is folly to think we can have one foot in the camp of demons and the other in the Church.

In his thorough examination of this issue of meat offered to idols, the Apostle Paul attempted to get the Corinthians to focus on the part that was really important and not on the part that was unimportant.  What was important was to avoid the worship of idols.  There is a demonic reality behind the falsehood of idols and it is also defiance of God’s command to worship Him only.

The unimportant part was what the pagans did with the leftover meat.  As human nature often compels us to do, some of the Corinthian church folk were trying to make meat the issue and it simply was not.  We too often make the trivial essential and then go to war over it.

Paul’s solution to that particular issue sets a principle we all need to follow as we live together: keep the first things first.  Don’t create mountains out of mole hills and then compound error by dividing from other believers over the molehills.  People have a habit of making complaints on the basis of some high-sounding principle, but in sensible terms the matter makes no practical difference!

That is one aspect of human nature that must be replaced with the divine nature of Jesus Christ.  We must be students of not allowing trivialities to cause friction or division.  We practice this Scripture by being reasonable people.

Under normal circumstances, we would be observing the Lord’s Supper today.  Sadly, as we are apart, we await another time when we can worship the Lord together. We await another time because…

There is more to the Lord’s Supper than a cup and some bread.

The sacrificial Death & Resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ are the spiritual realities that stand behind the bread and the cup.

We also refer to the Lord’s Supper as “Communion.”  The physical and emotional reality behind the bread and cup is that they deepen our relationships with one another, creating a Communion between believers.  The spiritual reality behind the bread and cup is that they deepen our Communion with God.  When we share these common items, they have the uncommon effect of drawing us closer to one another and closer to God.  That is something worth waiting for.  I look forward to the time when we can once again observe Communion together.



A Fishy Story

Please read Matthew 17:24-27 in your favorite Bible.  I used the NIV (1984) to prepare these remarks.

Because of the law of love, keep the law of the land.

  1. The problem as the tax collectors saw it. (17:24)

The tax collectors saw Jesus and Peter as being delinquent on their taxes.  That was the presenting issue anyway.  I suspect this was a trap set for Jesus.  The passive aggressive way the question is framed supports this view.  Also, the Gospels mention several occasions when Jewish leaders tried to catch Jesus in an error or taking sides in a hotly-debated issue.  Kind of like our media!

This event happened in Capernaum, Jesus’ usual home when in Galilee, the province north of Jerusalem in Judea.  The word “tax” doesn’t actually appear in verse 24.  It literally says “two-drachma coin,” which was the temple tax rate.

This was the only tax collected by the Jews not the Romans.  The Romans were historically lenient when it came to religious observances that did not compromise imperial taxes and/or loyalty to the empire.  Interesting fact: even after the Jewish temple was destroyed in 72 AD, the Romans continued the tradition of the “temple tax,” but they used it to find their temple to Jupiter!

We might call this a “head tax;” if you’ve got one, you’ve got to pay it.  It was commanded in Scripture: see Exodus 30:11-16.  It is also mentioned in 2 Chronicles 24:6+9, where it is called “atonement for your soul.”  That sounds important!

One drachma was a day’s wage for a typical worker.  Imagine me showing up on your doorstep once a year and hitting you up for two day’s income.  It might not bankrupt you, but it wasn’t painless either.

Commentator William Barclay explains the need for the tax:

“The temple at Jerusalem was a costly place to run.  There were the daily morning and evening sacrifices each of which involved the offering of a year-old lamb.  Along with the lamb were offered flour and oil.  The incense which was burned every day had to be bought and prepared.  The costly hangings and the robes of the priests constantly wore out; and the robe of the High Priest was itself worth a king’s ransom.  All this required money.”

(The Daily Study Bible Series, Matthew, p. 168.)

  1. The problem as Jesus saw it. (17:25-26)

Jesus’ saw the problem as being the tax collector attempting to collect from Peter and Himself a tax from which they were exempt. The encounter started with the tax collectors jumping Peter at the door.  Maybe they were trying to surprise Peter and intimidate him?  Peter may’ve been intimidated or surprised and he blurted out, “YES, HE DOES,” then went inside to make sure He did.

Jesus overheard; I imagine the tax collectors made a loud accusation, trying to make Jesus look bad in front of the folks that typically gathered outside any place He settled.  When Peter came inside, Jesus commented: “WHAT DO YOU THINK, SIMON?  FROM WHOM DO THE KINGS OF THE EARTH COLLECT DUTY AND TAXES – FROM THEIR OWN SONS OR FROM OTHERS?”

The answer was obvious, and Peter got it; “FROM OTHERS” he replied.  This was true; it was the habit of kings of the day to excuse members of their family from paying taxes.  Jesus’ first point is that the king’s kids are excused from paying taxes.  This was one of many examples of the powerful oppressing the needy.

His next point is that He is Son to a much greater King; the very God who commanded the tax be collected!  Jesus’ knowledge of His unique place came early in life.  In Luke 2:49 we see that Jesus, as a 12 year-old, referred to the temple as “MY FATHER’S HOUSE.”  As God’s Son, He was not – according to usual standards – required to pay any taxes.

A third point is that if this tax really was “atonement for the soul,” He needed to do no atoning, because He was not guilty of sin. There was no separation between God the Son and God the Father. No offering was needed.  Just the opposite; Jesus IS our atonement!  In His sacrifice on the cross we find our sin forgiven and our relationship with God restored.

He turned the occasion into a teachable moment, revealing two things about Himself.  First, Jesus is LORD.  “THEN THE SONS ARE EXEMPT” Jesus said to Peter, continuing the dialogue (26).  As the Son of God, Jesus was not required to pay that tax.

When we accept the Lordship of Jesus, we accept His right to rule over our lives and offer ourselves in service to Him.  Ironically, it is in this surrender that we realize true freedom.  As Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 3:17; NOW THE LORD IS THE SPIRIT, AND WHERE THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD IS, THERE IS FREEDOM.

Second, Jesus revealed that He is LOVE.  Jesus went on to say, “BUT SO WE MAY NOT OFFEND THEM…” (27).  The Gk word for OFFEND is skandalizein.  It meant to be a “stumbling block, a reason for sin, an obstruction in someone’s path.”  We must carefully guard against bringing offense or scandal if it’s at all possible.

A basic moral principle is the “preciousness of others.”  It’s based on Phillippians 2:3; DO NOTHING OUT OF SELFISH AMBITION OR VAIN CONCEIT, BUT IN HUMILITY CONSIDER OTHERS BETTER THAN YOURSELVES.  Jesus was under no legal obligation to pay their tax, but He did pay it, out of love.

  1. Jesus’ solution to the problem. (17:26-27)

The customs of the day did not require Jesus to pay the tax – the law did not apply to Him.  However, He voluntarily paid the tax because of the greater law of love.  Even though it was just tricky tax collectors setting a trap, He voluntarily paid the tax.

He performed a miracle to prove His legal exception and His true nature.  This miracle drives some people crazy.  The whole coin and the fish thing sounds like – well, like a fish story!           After all, why not just reach in His pocket and give Peter two coins?

First, pockets hadn’t been invented yet.  The French did that hundreds of years later.

Second, when we do what anybody can do, how does God get any glory out of that?  Miraculous and supernatural things serve as better evidence for God than everyday things.

Third, I picture the crowd outside waiting on the results of this confrontation and understood it to be a demonstration that will literally show them who is boss.

Jesus sent Peter out to the lake, which was probably nearby.  “Go fish” He said.  The first fish to bite would have something special in its tummy.  Peter was to take the coins he found there and use those funds to pay their taxes.

People who are troubled by these verses have not taken time to think it out or have a nutty predisposition against miracles.   Some think they are too smart – too “scientific” – to believe in miracles. Others think it depicts Jesus as misusing His divine power.

They’re both wrong.  Every Gospel miracle had a shared purpose: to show people Jesus is God’s Son.  The purpose of this miracle is no different.  Only the occasion is different.  Jesus claimed to be God’s Son and then proved He was by means of this miracle.

  1. How does this help you pay your taxes?

Go fishing – what can it hurt?  You will likely find this is a one-time event and won’t be repeated for you.  Notice that the fish had exactly what was needed, no more.  God supplies our “daily bread” without wasting any extra “dough.”

He supplies our needs, not our “greeds.”  Biblically, the ideal is that we can be self-sufficient enough to be generous with those in need and support God’s work too.

It can help with your attitude if you follow Jesus’ example of  humility and love.  Love for others is the second greatest command.  Jesus showed love by sincerely attempting to avoid causing offense to the legalistic crowd hung up on his taxes.

Because of the law of love, keep the law of the land

I’ll admit: on the outside this story reads strangely.  One commentator wrote that he’d been ashamed of the story because it felt so contrary to our reasonable and scientific culture.  It can feel silly to moderns who are so proud of their brains and have put their trust in science.

It is my prayer that we’ve looked more deeply.  With God’s Spirit we’ve seen this event through the eyes and ears of the people on the scene when it happened.   Hopefully it will make more sense and be visible to us as a time when Jesus used an unusual circumstance to teach very typical lessons on who He was and how we are to live like Him.

While it is a “fish story,” it is true and a parable of sorts that reminds us about God’s provision for us, our provision for each other, and our responsibility to see God in the details of daily living.

Shakespeare, Jesus, and Lawyers (Pt. One)

Please read Matthew 15:1-20 in your Bible.  Then examine the following to see if your spirit agrees.  I have prepared these remarks using the NIV.

Legalism is one of the disguises hypocrisy wears to conceal ungodliness.

“Few people are unfamiliar with the phrase, The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers. Rueful, mocking, it often expresses the ordinary person’s frustration with the arcana and complexity of law. Sometimes it’s known that the saying comes from one of Shakespeare’s plays, but usually there’s little awareness beyond that. This gap in knowledge has inspired a myth of ‘correction,’ where it is ‘explained’ that this line is intended as a praise of lawyers.

“Whoever first came up with this interpretation surely must have been a lawyer.  The line is actually uttered by a character ‘Dick the Butcher.’ While he’s a killer as evil as his name implies, he often makes highly comedic and amusing statements.

“The “kill the lawyers” statement is the ending portion of a comedic relief part of a scene in Henry VI, part 2. Dick and another henchman, Smith are members of the gang of Jack Cade, a pretender to the throne. The build-up is a long portion where Cade makes vain boasts, which are cut down by sarcastic replies from the others. For example:

I thank you, good people:- there shall be no money; all shall eat and drink on my score; and I will apparel them all in one livery, that they may agree like brothers, and worship me their lord.

The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.

“The audience must have doubled over in laughter at this.  Far from being ‘out of context’ the usage is more true to the original than most people know.

“In fact, Shakespeare used lawyers as figures of derision on several occasions.

“As long as there are lawyers, there will be “lawyer jokes”. And lawyers will show how those jokes ring true by trying to explain how such lampooning really constitutes praise for their profession, thus by example justifying the jokes more than ever.”

(Posted in 1997 by Seth Finkelstein at, retrieved on 06/19/17.)

  1. The Picky (1+2).

The Pharisees & lawyers were “picky” in the usual sense that they fussed over details, abusing the Law to further their own ends. Everyone knew the hand-washing regulations were not part of the Law given to Moses but were only a tradition started by rabbis.  In Jesus’ time these rules were not widely enforced, so these guys were trying too hard to find fault with Jesus.

Here is one example of their tradition regarding hand-washing: “If a man poured water over the one hand with a single rinsing, his hand is clean: but if over both hands with a single rinsing, Rabbi Meir declares them unclean unless he pours over them a quarter-log or more.” (M Yadaim 2:1)

The Pharisees and lawyers were also “picky” in that they were trying to pick a fight with Jesus.  They wanted to make Him look like a bad Jew. Note that these religious professionals were from Jerusalem.   They went all the way up to Galilee to find Jesus and “put Him in His place.”  In spite of their effort, all they could find to confront Him about was the behavior of his disciples at dinner time.

This sounds petty to us and it was petty, but not in the minds of these religious leaders.  When people are being legalistic, petty matters are molehills made to sound like mountains.  This is a word of warning to us about legalism; it is used because it provides a cover for pettiness.  Complaints that may be true in principle but not practicality are being used this way.  Be wary of this practice.

THE TRADITION OF THE ELDERS was a body of rules written by religious leaders over several generations called the “Halakah.”  The Pharisees attached a great deal of importance to this document and attempted to meet its requirements every day.  It was so complicated that a new profession arose to help people navigate its requirements: these are the TEACHERS OF THE LAW mentioned here.  We might call them “temple lawyers.”

Literacy was still not a common skill, so these TRADITIONS were largely maintained orally; the rabbi would train his students in them by having them recite them aloud.  This rote method of teaching was the main way these TRADITIONS were preserved in succeeding generations.

  1. The Pig in a Poke (3-9).

Continuing our earlier connection with English literature, we understand the expression “buying a pig in a poke” to be an old English phrase that refers to buying something without seeing or knowing anything about it first.  A “poke” is another word for sack.  (The word “pocket” is derived from it – a “pokette” is a small sack.) It is not wise to buy without first opening the sack to check the condition of the pig!

The Pharisees attempted to sell Jesus a “pig in a poke” in their criticism of His disciples’ lack of hand washing etiquette.  However, Jesus wasn’t buying it.  He opened the sack and exposed the contents.  Jesus exposed their legalism as hypocrisy – choosing their own traditions over God’s Law

God’s Law was clearly stated: children are to honor (obey) their parents.  Exodus 20:12 is the 5th Commandment; “HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER, SO THAT YOU MAY LIVE LONG IN THE LAND THE LORD YOUR GOD IS GIVING YOU.”  Jesus also quoted Exodus 21:17 which gave the penalty for violating this commandment: death.  Think God takes this seriously?  Yes, He does.

Jesus said this clear command had been nullified by a tradition created by the kind of people who were accusing Him.  Leviticus 27:9+16 allowed for property and real estate to be designated as “Corban,” a state of dedication to the Lord (see Mark 7:11).  This was to last until the next Year of Jubilee.  Perhaps on this basis, they created a rule that a man could dedicate assets to the temple.  If so, when his parents appealed to him for help, he could say to them, “I’d love to help you out, but my property is given over to the temple and I’m strapped for cash.”

With that kind of clear self-interest, the religious leaders created a way to make money and an excuse for the living to refuse all requests for philanthropy.  In our time, it would be a combination tax shelter and charitable trust.  Or it might be “fraud.”  Jesus’ point is simple; hypocrites will attempt to wallpaper their crimes in pages from law books in order to excuse their violations of God’s Law and/or make themselves appear godly when their hearts are nowhere near God.

In case you’re not yet seeing it, let me assure you this is a full-bore rebuke by Jesus.  It is the first time in Matthew’s Gospel Jesus referred to the Pharisees and lawyers – or anyone – as HYPOCRITES.

Jesus quoted from Isaiah 29:13 using the Word of God to expose the true intent of their hearts.  In effect, He rebuked them saying, “You believe you’re preserving traditions, but in reality, you’re guilty of the same hypocrisy the prophet Isaiah exposed.”

They replaced true faith which resides in one’s heart with superficialities.  Instead of enacting the will of God, they misused the Law to force their will on others.  The result: their worship was wasted because the rules they followed were just human notions, not the will of God.

Legalism is one of the disguises hypocrisy wears to conceal ungodliness.

We must understand what legalism is.  I offer the reader five views of the subject that will attempt to define this sin and enable us to avoid manifesting it in our daily living.

Legalism is a complicated attempt to create rules that make us look good while relieving us of the hard work of character.

Legalism is an attempt to cloud the condition of the heart by burying the matter in complications.  It is the old “smoke and mirrors” approach to misdirection.

Legalism mimics God’s Law, but is thoroughly man-made.  It is thereby not authoritative for all who believe.

Legalism misuses tradition by asserting that the old ways are the only right ways.

Legalism is selfishly motivated and attempts to please one’s self; where true righteousness is focused on God and desires to please Him.  We humans seem to have an infinite capacity to make excuses and manipulate words to justify self and/or condemn others.  We need a higher authority.

The Jewish religious leaders in this passage are long dead and so are some of their teachings.  But the practice of legalism is alive and well.  It has users in the Church and outside it; the dogmatism of “political correctness” is a modern manifestation of legalism.

Indeed, the practice of legalism is so common (inside and outside the Church) and its consequences are so serious, the Lord has impressed on me the necessity of studying this passage in detail.  Part Two will examine further aspects of Jesus’ condemnation of legalism.

Love Does It

(Please read Romans 13:8-10 in your favorite Bible. I use the NIV in my study.)

A man and his wife were driving home from church one Sunday morning.  After a few moments of comfortable silence, the woman said, “Cindy is sure putting on weight.  Do you think she’s pregnant?”

“I didn’t notice, dear,” the man replied.

“Well, did you see how short Diane’s skirt was?  And at her age!”

“I’m sorry, dear.  I didn’t notice.”

“Surely you noticed the way the Smiths let their kids crawl all over everything during fellowship?”

“No, I didn’t see that either.”

“Honestly!” the woman said, disgusted.  “I don’t even know why you go to church anymore!”

Why ARE you here?

Let me suggest the best reason of all: to give and receive love.  Church is where we learn about love; it is like a rehearsal and pep rally where we are reminded about the essential importance of love and given a chance to practice it before we return to the world and put it to work.

Love is what we have received from God.  It is the reason we celebrate in worship and the object of our prayers.

Love motivates us to keep God’s commands.

  1. Love is a DEBT in the sense that we “owe” it to one another.

The first part of v. 8 is good financial advice.  V. 8 relates back to v. 7, which is about keeping our monetary obligations, mentioning TAXES and REVENUE.  The Gk word for OWE in v. 7 comes from the same root as the word DEBT in v. 8.  This is a chain of thought in Paul’s mind.

LET NO DEBT REMAIN OUTSTANDING takes v. 7 and generalizes it into a principle which can guide many of our daily decisions.  Financial counselors will tell you to avoid debt wherever possible.  Debt has a way of crushing our finances and straining our relationships.  It’s a kind of stress that should be avoided.  When debt is unavoidable, the next best thing is to pay it off as soon as possible, to not let it REMAIN OUTSTANDING.

On the other hand, Jesus taught “Do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you” in Matthew 5:42.  Money should be the same as ministry in the eyes of a believer.

Church Father Origen wrote, “The debt of love is permanent, and we never get out of it; for we pay it daily and yet always own it.”

God has commanded us to love, that’s why we owe it to one another. In the Old Testament we find the command to love evident in the following passages.



In the New Testament the command to love is affirmed by Jesus and the apostles.



  1. Love is the fulfillment of every point of God’s Law.

Paul sets forth the principle in vs. 8+10: LOVE IS THE FULFILLMENT OF THE LAW.  This is true because LOVE is the highest, best, and most reliable motive for keeping the LAW.

One way we know whether or not any word or deed is loving is to subject it to the standard set forth in v. 10: LOVE DOES NO HARM TO A NEIGHBOR.  Love is distinguished by always wanting more for the other person than for self.  Love motivates us to avoid doing anything harmful.  Of course this means causing physical, mental, or reputational pain – harm of any kind.  Love takes a positive approach every time.

The literal meaning of NEIGHBOR is “one who is near.”  This means that the application of this command is universal – all the people we meet.

Paul offers four specific examples of how we’re to treat our NEIGHBOR in verse nine.

First, everyone who truly loves will not be guilty of committing ADULTERY.  Our English word ADULTERY translates the Greek word porneia.

It is the Bible’s base word for all kinds of sexual sin.  Whether a person is married or single, this one term covers all forms of this kind of sin.

ADULTERY is not restricted to the physical acts of disobedience, but encompasses all the attitudes of the heart that put satisfaction of self ahead of devotion to God.  For example, in Matthew 5:27-28, Jesus condemned

LUST as an act that makes a person as guilty of ADULTERY as the physical relationship.

Those who love keep their eyes and heart devoted to their beloved, so they are never guilty of ADULTERY in an emotional or spiritual sense or a physical one.  Marriage is the one relationship where sexuality is approved.

Second, everyone who truly loves will not commit MURDER.  This word does not refer to capital punishment or acts of violence in defense of self or the innocent.  Some Christians believe this command forbids all forms of violence, but that is not what the text says.

Of course, there are other kinds of violence.  Jesus taught that whoever condemns his brother is in as much danger of hell as whoever commits murder (see Matthew 5:21-22).  Once again, unloving attitudes are as much sin as unloving acts.

Third, everyone who truly loves will not STEAL.  Stealing is an offense to God for many reasons, but at its base it is a refusal to respect others and their rights to private property.  The idea of DOMINION or ownership goes back to Genesis 1+2.  Those who steal disrespect the dominion God has given others over their property.

Of course, people routinely steal things other than property and are thereby as guilty of stealing as someone who pinches physical goods.  For example, the sins of gossip, lying, backbiting, and slander are sins because they steal from another person’s reputation.

Fourth, everyone who truly loves will not be guilty of coveting.  To COVET is to be so materialistic that you desire things you do not own.  It may be a prelude to stealing.  It is a sin because it is a selfish irritation and dissatisfaction with what God has provided.  It betrays a lack of faith & trust in God.

The truly loving person will not COVET because they will care more about the owner than the item.  They will recognize that the owner and their treatment of him will continue into eternity, but the thing in question will not.

All of these examples are problems that would be solved if we loved our neighbor as ourselves, if we kept the Golden Rule.  Notice how Jesus expressed this in Matthew 7:12: “IN EVERYTHING, DO TO OTHERS WHAT YOU WOULD HAVE THEM DO TO YOU, FOR THIS SUMS UP THE LAW AND THE PROPHETS.”  Does that sound familiar?  That’s exactly what Paul wrote!  Imagine what kind of a home, church, community and world we would have if everyone abided by this foundational ethical principle.  It is simple, portable, and it works.

Love motivates us to keep God’s commands.

“Almost a century ago, two young medical school graduates, along with their doctor father, tried an important experiment. They built a small sanitarium on a farm outside Topeka, Kansas (USA). Oftentimes patients were sent to impersonal institutions where they might remain their entire lives.
“The doctors were Charles Menninger and his sons Karl and William. The Menningers had a different idea. Their sanitarium would not be impersonal. They were determined to create a loving, family atmosphere among their patients and staff. Their vision was to grow a community of doctors, nurses and support staff that would cooperate to heal patients.
“To this end, nurses were given special training and were told, ‘Let each person know how much you value them. Shower these people with love.’ Many of the patients received more love and kindness at the Menninger Sanitarium than they had ever experienced before.
“The treatment worked – spectacularly.  [At the end of the first six months, the time people spent in the institution was cut in half.] The experiment was a resounding success and the Menninger’s revolutionary approach to healing and their radical (for that time) methods became world famous.
“Karl Menninger later wrote numerous books and became a leading figure in American psychiatry. ‘Love cures people,’ Menninger wrote, ‘both the ones who give it and the ones who receive it.’ His work demonstrated just how true that statement is.”

<Retrieved from on 1/20/17.>

“Love cures people,” that’s a quote worth remembering, isn’t it?  We’ve learned today that love helps us keep God’s commands: indeed, it is His greatest commandment.  Love is the most important thing.

The flipside of love is holiness.  To be genuine, you can’t have one without the other.  Holiness is the practice of love in our relationships, the things we do that are in keeping with God’s commands.

One of the chief places where love shows up or is conspicuously absent is in our conversations.  The words we say and the way in which we say them goes a long way in revealing whether we are truly in Christ or not and that’s why the NT spends so much time on them.

(If you’d like to see the video version of this message,

Putting on Heirs

Please read Galatians 3:23-29.  My remarks were prepared with the New Living Translation.


Bill Bradley and Jack Kemp are two men who have enjoyed success as professional athletes and as politicians on the national stage.  The two men played different sports, so they never faced one another in competition, but they were on opposite sides of the aisle in Washington, D.C.  Bradley is a Democrat and Kemp was a Republican (he died in 2009).

It was through their time in professional athletics that these men learned life-long lessons on the subject of race.  They learned to do better than tolerate their black teammates, they came to respect them and ceased to see skin color as any kind of barrier to playing ball or living life.

When he was Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Jack Kemp wrote, “I couldn’t face my friends Ernie Ladd, Cookie Gilchrist, or Tippy Day or all the black football players I know and lived with and lost and won with, if I weren’t their voice in the [president’s] cabinet.”

In his book More Than Equals, Chris Rice wrote the following, “Racial reconciliation shouldn’t begin with a debate over affirmative action and quotas – or theology.  It’s about getting to know names and faces.  Build relationships and share in your new friends’ concerns for their families and communities.  Go into the neighborhood.  Visit the church.  Let their experience speak to your life.”

<Both quotes are retrieved from the December 26, 2001 devotional in Men of Integrity magazine.>

Today is Flag Day.  Let’s note something about Old Glory.  Do you see more than one color here?  Each of these colors have an important symbolic meaning and each contributes to the whole flag.  Old Glory would be less glorious if any of these colors were deleted.  LET THE SAME THINGS BE SAID OF OUR CHURCH!  Let’s see what God said.

Context: This letter deals with the problems caused by false teachers who insisted that non-Jews had to become Jews before they could properly become Christians.

Message: What has always mattered most is God’s love.  One of the beneficial effects of His love is that it unites us, makes us one family under our Heavenly Father.


  1. We were formerly orphans under the guardianship of the Law (3:23-25).

Paul comments on life under the Law of Moses as a “B.C.” state = “Before Christ.”  V. 23 = BEFORE THE WAY OF FAITH IN CHRIST WAS AVAILABLE TO US.

– Comment #1 = Faith in Christ is a way of life, a worldview, an approach to daily living that is all-encompassing.

– Comment #2 = The Law of Moses (what made Israel the people of God, a part of what made Jews “Jewish”) was only a temporary measure.  v. 23 = UNTIL THE WAY OF FAITH WAS REVEALED.

– Comment #3 = The purpose of the Law was to protect God’s people.

–  V. 23 = WE WERE PLACED UNDER GUARD…KEPT IN PROTECTIVE CUSTODY.  (Even the verb here is in the passive voice!)


– The word translated here as “guardian” is the Gk word from which we get “pedagogue.”  The word referred to people who had custody of children to train them.  Children born in wealthy houses went from mother to wet nurse to pedagogue, who later took them to a teacher for book learning.  They were completely responsible for their charges; if the child misbehaved, it was the pedagogue who was punished!

– This is obviously a temporary situation; sooner or later the child grows up and can govern herself.  The pedagogue works themselves out of a job, preparing the child to be responsible and mature and self-sufficient for the day when the family says they are old enough to be an adult.  Paul used this common cultural practice to illustrate the state of godly people under the Law.

– V. 25 = NOW THAT THE WAY OF FAITH HAS COME, WE NO LONGER NEED THE LAW AS OUR GUARDIAN.  Though we don’t all mature, we do all age, and there comes a time when children cease to be children and become adults, responsible for themselves.  It was at this time a male child became a citizen and his father’s heir.

The WAY OF FAITH is a system of greater freedom, more responsibility, and more power to decide for ourselves.  Paul uses this illustration to show that the false teachers were false because they failed to understand that in the new agreement instituted by Jesus Christ, we “graduated” from childhood to adulthood.  Just as it is ridiculous to sleep in the nursery when one has “grown up,” so it is for these false teachers to lie and say it was necessary for us to live in the spiritual nursery when we are adults & heirs with Christ.

From what did the Law protect us?

– From the sinful and human sides of our natures.

– From our ignorance of the will of God.

– From the influence of the Enemy who tempts us to sin & accuses of guilt when we give into temptation.

– Note that the Law did not SOLVE these problems, it offered protection as a temporary alleviation.

A couple of caveats:

– Being in custody, even PROTECTIVE CUSTODY, is still nothing like freedom.  It is in our human nature to chafe under restraint and to yearn for freedom.

– Being in the custody of the Law is more pleasant than being PRISONERS OF SIN (v. 22).  So the law was given to protect us from the death penalty to which PRISONERS OF SIN are subject.

Paul’s comment on life of faith in Jesus Christ, under God’s new covenant, as a part of God’s new people, the Church is revealed in his repeated use of t word UNTIL:



It’s clear a new situation exists.  He spends the next four verses explaining God’s final solution.

  1. We are now God’s children and part of one family (3:26-29).

God’s people have gone from being under a guardianship to being adopted into the family of God.  How did this happen?  Jesus Christ did it for all people and we who receive it by faith are privileged to be children of God.

Note Paul’s use of inclusive language.

–  V. 26 = YOU ARE ALL CHILDREN OF GOD THROUGH FAITH IN CHRIST JESUS.  The Gk word ALL here is in emphatic voice and it is the first word in the sentence.

– V. 27 = ALL WHO HAVE BEEN UNITED WITH CHRIST IN BAPTISM.  Some scholars believe vs. 27+28 are part of a liturgy that was used in the early Church when baptisms were performed, to explain the significance of baptism.  The imagery of PUTTING ON NEW CLOTHES is a way of describing taking on the characteristics of someone, like a child putting on daddy’s shirt and acting like him.

– V. 28 = YOU’RE ALL ONE IN CHRIST JESUS.  This teaching is found elsewhere in Paul’s letters: (see 1 Corinthians 7:17-28; 12:13; Colossians 3:11).

The effects of God’s gracious action to adopt us are profound and they set worldly ways of thinking on their ear. For example, according to verse 28, there are no longer any earthly divisions that matter.  We’re not saying that they cease to exist, but that they cease to matter.  What once divided us divides us no more. What matters is that we are one family.

– We are one family; not JEWS or GENTILES.  That distinction no longer determines membership in God’s family.  (This one is the most relevant to Paul’s argument.)

– We are one family; not SLAVES or FREEBORN.  That distinction no longer entitles one set of people to human rights and denies them to another set.

– We are one family; not MALE or FEMALE.  That distinction determined inheritance of property in the ancient world but it does not make us heirs with Christ.

Paul may have chosen these three comparisons because they are exactly counter to the prayer a pious Jew made every morning, thanking God for not making him a Gentile, a slave, or a woman!  Or he may have selected these three as representative of the three most basic human relationships – religious, civil, and familial.  Ungodly folk use these distinctives as excuses for division and injustice, but not in the Church!  In the Church we affirm that we are ALL ONE IN CHRIST JESUS!

As verse 29 teaches, it is by faith we accept God’s gracious offer of adoption and that place us in a very privileged position.  Here are the great things that are true NOW THAT YOU BELONG TO CHRIST:

– YOU ARE THE TRUE CHILDREN OF ABRAHAM.  The Jews held a great deal of pride as being the legitimate sons of Abraham.  In fact, John the Baptist dealt with this arrogance; “PROVE BY THE WAY YOU LIVE THAT YOU HAVE REPENTED OF YOUR SINS AND TURNED TO GOD.  DON’T JUST SAY TO EACH OTHER, ‘WE’RE SAFE, FOR WE ARE DESCENDANTS OF ABRAHAM.’  THAT MEANS NOTHING, FOR I TELL YOU, GOD CAN CREATE CHILDREN OF ABRAHAM FROM THESE VERY STONES.” (Luke 3:9)  This is what TRUE means in v. 29.  Apart from prideful claims & arrogant complacency, anyone can – by faith, not birth – become an heir & receive what God promised Abraham.

– YOU ARE HIS HEIRS, AND GOD’S PROMISE TO ABRAHAM BELONGS TO YOU.  This is Paul sticking it directly to the Judaizers in the Galatian church.  They were guilty of the same arrogance and pride John the Baptist confronted, as proven by their insistence that non-Jewish believers become Jews first.  The heart of their pride was their claim of Abraham as their true father, so Paul reveals pointedly that ALL who are IN CHRIST are Abraham’s true heirs.


What’s the difference between friction and traction?  After all, both of them involve two objects rubbing against one another.  The difference is that friction only generates heat, but traction generates movement.  To what kind of church family do you want to belong – the kind that is merely abrasive or the kind that gets somewhere?

Think about it a minute.  Who do you think is going to solve the problem of prejudice?  How about the problem of poverty?  Equal pay for equal work?  The government and the media claim to have been working on these issues for fifty years or more – have we seen any progress?  Are these problems going to be solved by any worldly means?

The obvious answer is no.  We will see real change come from the Church because only the Church – with all her problems – is connected to the real source of truth and power, God.  The Church will accomplish this by turning one soul at a time toward God.  Change the people and the laws will follow.  Change the culture by changing the attitude of one person at a time.  Heal the nation by healing yourself and your neighbor. What we need to do is all the things that contribute to traction.

What’s a “Chukim?”

The Bible is the authority for all matters of faith and practice because it reveals God’s will to God’s people.  In order to be faithful followers, we must learn what the Bible says and apply it to our daily living (see 2 Timothy 2:15).

However, the call to study does not imply that all can be understood.  The command to “hide” God’s word in our heart (see Psalm 119:11) does not promise that living in the word while in the world will be easy or make us respected.  Anyone who tells you they’ve got it all figured out is selling you a lie.

“Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material.”        (Leviticus 19:19c, NIV.)

Without getting into a single interpretational issue, let me tell you my purpose.  I offer this single statement of divine Law as an example of a chukim, a Jewish term for biblical laws that come to us unexplained.  We’re left to figure it out ourselves, to guess at why cloth with mixed fibers is in the same list of sins as stealing, lying, blasphemy, and sorcery.

Here’s how some people approach it.  They hire a Shatnez Tester to go through their wardrobe and determine what clothing is kosher and what is not.  “Shatnez” is the Hebrew word for “mixed fibers” and I do not have space enough to describe how meticulously these people do their work (hint: they use a microscope).

(QUICK CAVEAT: Let there be nothing in the preceding that seems to deprecate in any way people who are concerned enough about keeping God’s commands that they go to these lengths.  My purpose is to offer a contrast, but not at the expense of condemning someone else’s sincere service to God.  I plead with the reader to see no disrespect is intended.)

OR, we could take Jesus’ approach:

1) Simplify the Law to love (see Matthew 22:34-40).

2) The spirit of the Law trumps the letter, especially where human needs can be met (see Matthew 12:1-14).

3) Resist the urge to allow petty personal opinion masquerade as law (see Colossians 2:6-23).