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继续做蒙福的人 Remain Blessed

Sermon passage: (Galatians 3:6-14) Spoken on: May 23, 2021
More sermons from this speaker 更多该讲员的讲道: Rev Enoch Keong
For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: Galatians

Tags: Galatians 加拉太书

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About Rev Enoch Keong: Rev. Keong is currently serving as a pastor in the youth, young adult and young families ministries in Jubilee Church.

Title: Remain Blessed
Date: 30 May 2021
Preacher: Rev Enoch Keong

It will be June in 2 days’ time. June is a month where people find it to be exciting for different reasons. For our young friends it should be the school holiday, with no HBL. A few might be looking out for the Great Singapore Sales. But for a group of enthusiast, June spells the beginning of a season that would run for about 4 months. We are referring to the mid-year durian season. We see durians all year round these days. But durian lovers will tell you that it is during this season – and especially in July and August – when you will get the best quality at the best price. Bear with me for just a few minutes if durian is not your thing.

For durian lovers, the mere mentioning of it might make them wish for the sermon to end right now, so that they can go and get some. Durian lover don’t just eat durians. They begin by looking at the shape. Odd shaped durians might mean happy surprises installed. When opened, durian lovers look at the color, that beautiful shiny yellow. At the first touch, they feel the texture; it should be soft yet firm. When they plant their teeth into it, they hunt for that bittersweet taste and enjoy the creamy texture to its fullness. For durian lovers, the durian season is not a time to eat durians, but to feast on them, to go on and on to their hearts’ content.

Ok. June is still 2 days away, so stop thinking about feasting on durians now.

But why do we talk about feasting on durians in trying to understand what Paul is saying in the text?

If you have been following the sermon series on Galatians or have been reading the book, you would have noticed that Paul is going on and on, doing just one thing chapter after chapter. The way Paul writes is like how durian lovers would feast on durians. They don’t want to have a bit of it, or some of it, but to keep going on and on till they are truly satisfied. As for Paul, he kept going on and on to achieve one thing, to discourage the Galatians from doing what the law requires in order to confirm their faith and to urge them to just carry on and live a life of faith.

Paul begins the task of persuasion by sharing personal stories. He starts with a short conversion testimony. In it he highlights that folks in Judea who has yet to know him, had this to say about him, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” (1:23). In other words, when people think about Paul the Christian, they picture a man who go in faith and share the faith with people.

Next, he tells about his acceptance by the Jerusalem leaders as the apostle to the Gentile, where he slipped in a comment, that “Titus…was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek.” (2:3) This is Paul’s way of saying, it is enough just to have faith.

He then continues with a piece of personal life history. He tells about how he responded to Peter who refused to accept the Gentiles in Antioch and followed instead the ways of the Jews. On that occasion he says to Peter’s face these words, ““If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?” So Peter was wrong. What might then be a positive and actionable take on the matter? Something like this, says Paul, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith…” (2:20)

Paul keeps going on and on, like durian lovers. 3 servings: simply not enough. Paul continues to write, but changes his approach. This time, he persuades by making the Galatians reflect on their own experience, firing at them a series of questions like this one, “Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?” (3:2)

Enough number of servings issued? No, Paul thinks that more is still needed before the message might finally get through to the Galatians.

He therefore continues to write, changing again his approach. This time he expounds the scriptures. In the 8 verses that we read this morning, Paul refers 6 times to the Old Testament.

Question, do we agree with Paul on the need to keep going on and on with the same point that he is making? Are people really so slow in understanding? No, Galatian gentiles heard and understood and became Galatians Christians. But Galatian Christians were also very quickly becoming “Galatians law abiders’. The Galatians story therefore tells us that faith, though easy to grasp, is also something very challenging to grasp in its totality and to be put into practice in every aspect of life. Agree? I think that’s why Paul had to use as many approaches as he can come up with to encourage living by faith.

We will have more to say about living by faith in a bit. But before that, we should take a closer look at the other thing that Paul is doing herein: to debunk the opponents’ false teachings.

In verse 10 Paul writes, “For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” Paul quotes from Deuteronomy, but the verse in Deuteronomy actually goes as follow, “‘Cursed be anyone who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’ (Deut 27:26) Wait. Do we hear the cheering with an Amen? The verse is a declaration that those who do not do the law that will be cursed, and the people would respond with an affrimation. But Paul uses the verse to say the exact opposite. What’s going on here?

Well, the pastor of Galatians church is also an astute bible scholar. He could see that the verse in Deuteronomy implies that doing the law means doing ALL things written in the Book of the Law. He therefore added in the implied meaning when he quoted Deuteronomy. In doing so, he highlights to the Galatian the danger that they will be inviting themselves into should they follow the law.

This is the way Paul debunks the opponents’ teaching. We are not sure if his attempt was met with success. But Paul’s words have had its effect on the Christian church down history and it is still affecting us today. The church in reading Paul tends to pitch law against faith and grace, and paints law in a bad light. So grace is good and law is bad. But has the church done justice to the law? Have you and I been misinformed by tradition?

Friends, all that Paul is saying is this, adherers of the law will be cursed if they fail to keep to the entire Law code. Paul isn’t saying that it is impossible to keep the law or that the law should be pitch against grace and be painted in a bad light.

Paul has this to confess in the book of Philippians, “as to righteousness under the law, [he was] blameless.” (Phil 3:6) So, Paul ain’t against keeping the law. Keeping the law is possible, Paul himself had done it.

And the law is never something bad; consider the word of this song:

“The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul;
the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple;
the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes;
the fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever;
the rules of the LORD are true, and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.” (Ps 19:7-11)

So, the law is good and keeping the law is a good thing.

Why then is there such negativity about keeping the law in the letter to the Galatians? Well, history tells it all. Israel must have had individuals like Paul, do-ers of the law who were blameless in God sight. But as a nation, Israel did badly. Theirs was a repeated cycle of trying and failing to keep the law. And when Jerusalem fell to Babylon, the entire nation, the righteous together with the unrighteous, those who did the law and those who did not, were all taken as captives. In short, should the Galatians follow the footsteps of the Jews to confirm their faith by keeping the law, they will most likely be signing up to join a losing game.

But for us Jubileans, I hope what was just said clears the air somewhat on how to view the Law. Paul is for keeping the law, the bible as a whole wants us to keep the law, by faith, as in we do the law by placing our faith in God, trusting God to help us love him, and to love and do justice to our neighbors. And where would be one place to find the guidelines to do it properly? The law.

The big problem with the Galatians is that they sought to do the law, without faith. Faith was given to them; they set it aside, prepared to do what the law requires, to get credits and earn merits through doing so, and with those accomplishments, to congratulate themselves that they finally qualify as people of faith.

Their pastor sees this pathetic situation and he says, “Go and read Gen 15:6”. Here again is the astute bible scholar is at work. You see, God called Abraham in Gen 12 and covenanted with him in Gen 15. But, the making of the covenant only happened in the second half of the chapter. In other words, when God by his grace counted Abraham as righteous because of his faith, Abraham was at that point still a gentile, like the Galatians. As to circumcision, it was something that Abraham received only later on in chapter 17. With such precedence, the Galatians really need not do what the Jews were doing to qualify as people of faith, for God had justified Abraham the gentile who exercised faith.

Am I also going on and on making the same point? I hope I am. And I hope you won’t mind me doing so; because faith, though easy to grasp, is also something very challenging to grasp in its totality and to be put into practice in every aspect of life. Not to mention that as people of faith, we are often visited by doubts, doubts about God and doubts about ourselves, doubts about our level of faith. But because faith comes through grace, there’s good news.

When Abraham was counted righteous, his faith was…ok, sufficient but far from being fully matured. But that’s good enough. From that point onward, we see God patiently cultivating Abraham’s faith through life circumstances. Abraham was promised a son but saw none for quite a long while. Finally given one, but was asked to offer him up to God after some years. From the time Abraham was counted righteous till the offering up of his son was quite many years. It took that many years before we see the Abraham that was full of faith. So for us, if we find our faith to be only ok, it is ok. God will patiently cultivate it. All is needed is that our faith is genuine. What do we mean by that?

Have we ever wondered, of the many qualities that Abraham could have had, why did God value just this one aspect, his faith? Because it was an act in which Abraham “casts himself upon, and lives by, the word of God which assures him of a future” .[1] What do we stake our future upon? Our credentials, reserves, family support, the efficacy of COVID vaccine, looks? For me, definitely not looks. But if we also stake our future with God, then we have genuine faith, and that’s probably all that God is asking of us. As for the blessings we hope to receive and to pass on to others, God will bring them to pass, when in Him we continue to trust.

[1] R. Y. K. Fung , The Epistle to the Galatians (NICNT; Grand Rapids MI : Eerdmans , 1988 ).Kindle version. p.166.