That said, let’s dig into Paul’s closing words to the Thessalonian church. I’ve found that how I react to different passages in the Bible tells me things about myself, both in general and where I am in my life at that particular reading. What resonates with me, what comforts me? What makes me uncomfortable, what makes me put up my fists inside? What do I have questions about? For me, reading the Bible is often an experience in being forced to get honest with myself before God.
Welcome to a new letter from Paul. He wrote this one to the church at Philippi while he was imprisoned at Rome. As I read through the first chapter, I found myself asking: how am I gonna talk about this one? Paul’s all over the place! One moment he’s expressing his gratitude for the Philippian church, then he’s talking about preaching the gospel to his captors while he’s imprisoned, then he’s talking about how some people are preaching the gospel out of selfish motives but he doesn’t care because people are still hearing the truth about Jesus Christ. And that’s not the half of it–he’s got more to say about suffering and sacrificing and how faith manifests itself in action, to the point where I ask myself, what’s the theme here? Is there a theme? What ties it all together? Then it hits me: the theme is Jesus Christ himself.
Let’s talk about mysteries. I’m having trouble getting started today, and we’ve got to talk about something, so mysteries it is.
Paul’s got a two-pronged argument here for those among the Galatians who would want to hang onto the Jewish law and insist that it’s necessary for salvation. He starts with a contrast between law and faith, similar to his arguments in the first handful of chapters from Romans, then moves into one based on chronology. But before we get into all that, I just want to note: the Galatians are by and large not Jews themselves! But they’ve bought into this false gospel from diehard Jewish legalists that being a Christian means getting circumcised and getting your kosher on and keeping the Sabbath. Which, honestly, strikes me as a serious feat of persuasion, getting predominantly Greek Gentiles to adopt the restrictive legal code of a minority religious-ethnic group that enjoys no particular popularity in the Roman Empire.
I was in high school when I first discovered Sara Groves. If I remember correctly, my dad heard her song “The Word” on the radio and ended up buying her Conversations CD as a result. But the bridge of the song is this litany of scriptural truths…and just this morning, as I was reading today’s chapter, it hit me: almost all of her scripture selections are taken from Paul.
Paul really likes his metaphors. In this chapter, he’s hardly introduced one metaphor when he moves on to another: a metaphor-shark swimming in the stream of consciousness, never stopping. He’s got three metaphors here: a letter of commendation, the stone tablets of the old Law, and Moses’ veil.
Each weekday, I try to get into the day’s passage, dig something up and bring it back out for you. I’m having a hard time of it today. But that’s on me, not on the passage. Paul’s talking about Moses and the Exodus and the Israelites’ wilderness wanderings as a metaphorical lesson for the Corinthian church, and he’s back on the idolatry thing, this time saying that meat sacrificed to idols is actually sacrificed in the service of demons. There’s no shortage of stuff to dig into here. But it’s easier to watch some dude speedrun all of Super Mario All-Stars on Youtube than to get out the exegetical shovel and figure out what Paul’s trying to get across here.