Monday, 26 September 2011
Galatians 2:1-10: Freedom and playing favorites
We live in the day of the anti-hero. Heroes are being toppled off their pedestals like so many statues of Saddam Hussein. Not just political leaders either. Our culture seems to revel in stories that expose the hidden flaws of those in the public eye — Billy Graham’s rebellious son, C.S. Lewis’s weird relationship with his substitute mother. It seems that even George Washington didn’t cut down the cherry tree as advertised. Or if he did he didn’t confess to it after all.
You might think the one place we are safe from this is at home. I mean, we can’t make a hero out of family members — we know each other too well! But we do have room to play favorites. This is the domestic equivalent of heroes. One child is compliant, easy going, humorous. He or she becomes “the good child.” Another child is fussy, strong willed, serious. He or she becomes “the problem child” in our minds. We may not say it out loud, but we begin to treat them differently. The good child is the one we turn to for help and companionship. The problem child becomes a thing to be fixed instead of a person to be enjoyed.
When I put people on pedestals I play god, assigning them their place in my universe. But I am not acting like the true God. He doesn’t do that.
God doesn’t play favorites. In our passage for the week Paul uses the same phrase three times, “those who seemed to be influential.” He roots it in the character of God with the terse theological assertion, “God shows no partiality.” Now I know it’s true that God doesn’t play favorites, but what does that have to do with the gospel? Then it hit me. God’s impartiality is part of the gospel–Christ is for everyone. The important and the unimportant. The good child and the problem child.
This passage brings gospel clarity to the issue of playing favorites. There are no important or unimportant people. Christ died for everyone. The truth of the gospel–Christ plus nothing is for everyone–gives us freedom to see each other the way God does, and to treat each other accordingly.
Freedom from…When I set mere human beings on pedestals, I am doing them a disservice. They won’t thrive up there, cut off from the rest of the world, trapped by my expectations. The only place for them to go is down. The good child will disappoint me and woe to us both when he or she does.
Not only am I setting the “seemingly important person” up for failure, I am enslaving myself to him or her. I will find myself looking up to them for approval. Or treating them as some kind of favorite. I will change my behavior in order to please them. I will spend too much effort getting their attention. This will divert my resources away from other people who need me. And who might that be?
Freedom for…I have puzzled over Galatians 2:10, “Only they asked us to remember the poor…” How does this fit in with Paul’s gospel preserving discussion? Well, I know God cares about the poor, so it must be a good thing to do. And I know that this isn’t adding a human work to the gospel–it’s not “Christ AND caring for the poor.” But there’s something else going on. It seems to be an implication of the truth of the gospel. How?
When I am free from looking up at the people I have put on a pedestal, I am free to notice the people under my feet. When I realize there are no important people, I also realize there are no unimportant people either. The poor might be financially poor or socially poor or emotionally poor. Whatever the type of poverty, when I am free from playing favorites, I am free to remember them. And give them whatever help I have to give.
In my home, I am free to take the problem child along with me on errands, not in order to fix them, but just to spend time with them, to love them. I am free to see them differently. And seeing is always the precursor to loving.
Freedom in…This kind of freedom doesn’t come from changing our thinking. It doesn’t come from changing our behavior. It comes from being in Christ. He is our freedom. He is the only one who ever treated others with impartiality. That’s because he came to show us what God is like. You want to see impartiality lived out in real time? Look at his life.
Luke 7 records a great example. Jesus has been invited to a Pharisees’ house for dinner. He takes his place at the table. Simon is at the head of the table, a sinful woman is at his feet, weeping. One seems to be important, the other not. But Jesus knew that they were both servants, in debt to their Master. He came to forgive both debts. Because he wasn’t impressed with Simon, he was free to serve them both, the Pharisee and the sinner.
He wants to free us to do the same. Our Hero!