Week of Feb. 19: All are heirs, no matter how 'common, hopeless or despicable'
By SAM AND HELEN ROGERS
Scripture: Galatians 3:15-18; 4:1-7
Background Scripture: Galatians 3:15-29 and 4:1-5:1
The scripture this week continues where we ended last week. The background scripture will fill in all Paul is saying about the Christian’s relationship to God. Paul uses two metaphors from his Roman citizenship to fortify his position on the primacy of grace. Remember, Galatia was a province of the Roman Empire and, as such, Roman law prevailed. He speaks of wills (covenants) and adoption. Both are central in understanding his arguments.
Wills are very sacred instruments of the law. Once made, and properly witnessed, they cannot be changed—except by the one who made the will originally. A famous case in point involved a park in the city of Macon. When the land was given as a park, the will stated clearly it forever be used only “by white women and children.” Later, when desegregation became the law of the land, a suit was brought to return the valuable property to the heirs of the original owner. Today Baconsfield is no longer a city park but a business complex—all stemming from the will of Senator Bacon.
Paul uses covenants (wills) to make his point. No one can add to or subtract from the wording of a will. Thus, the covenant God made with Abraham cannot be changed. The promise made to Abraham takes precedence over the Law of Moses which came 430 years later! Also, Paul interprets the word “seed” in a very important way. He insists the word is singular—not plural. The word refers to one person only, and that person is Jesus Christ. He is the only seed of Abraham. In Him is the promise fulfilled. Paul is interpreting this passage as he insisted all scripture be read: in accordance with the revelation of God in Jesus Christ.
For the Jew, the true offspring of Abraham was Israel. Jews believed God’s demand for righteousness could only be met through strict adherence to the Law. Paul argued the Law could not change the will by putting this limitation on the promise, coming 430 years after the promise was made! With this understanding, the way was opened for Gentiles also to be children of Abraham. “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:29)
How did we become heirs? Paul is the only New Testament writer to use the powerful metaphor of adoption to describe how we are related to God as children through Christ. In adoption there are two major consequences. First, the previous life is completely annulled – as if it had never been! Second, the adopted child is in fact the heir of the new family.
Whereas, Galatians is one of Paul’s earliest letters, his most complete statement about this relationship change is found in Romans 8:14-17.
“…those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption. …and by him we cry “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ…”
As heirs, Paul deals with the law stating WHEN an heir receives the full benefits of the will. As long as an heir is a child, there is a limit to his/her inheritance. For both Jew and Gentile alike our relationship with God was like a child to a parent or even a slave to a master. In Paul’s world the line between childhood and adulthood was sharply drawn. Particularly for the Jew was this clear. When a boy became 12, on the first Sabbath after his birthday, he was taken to the synagogue/temple for his Bar Mitzvah. In that ancient rite, he became a “son of the Law.” Today there is a Bat Mitzvah for the girls. The meaning is the same: they were no longer children.
So Paul declares with the coming of Christ, the world entered a new era! He uses a wonderfully pregnant phrase— “in the fullness of time.” All are given the potential to become an heir of God. The Jew was freed from the Law, and the Gentile was liberated from the “basic principles of the world” (Galatians 4:3). So each equally could become a full heir and claim the full inheritance God had willed to Abraham.
When you study genealogies to learn about your roots, you may find surprises. In the two genealogies of Jesus in the Gospels, there is a significant difference. Matthew follows Jesus’ roots back to Abraham, but Luke goes all the way back to Adam! Matthew was a Jew – Luke was a Gentile. Luke, as a companion of Paul, had heard him preach and teach. He was with him when he wrote several of the letters to the churches—the earliest documents of the New Testament. When Luke wrote his Gospel years later, he wanted his readers to know Jesus was born, lived, and died – for ALL!
This potential for each person to become an heir determines how we think about ourselves and others. There is no place for pride of position, achievements, economics, or even family. And when we are discouraged or depressed about ourselves, we remember whose we are! Ellsworth Kalas cautions us when we are tempted to be judgmental about anyone who is not a Christian. He writes: “Call no one common, hopeless, or despicable for whom Christ died.”
We are prone to make comments expressing our human judgment about another’s life. Consider for a moment all the different “boxes” we use to categorize an individual. Where are you from? Who were your parents? What do you do for a living? Where do you live? What kind of car do you drive? Where did you go to college? With the affirmation in Galatians 3:28, Paul puts to rest forever all the human categories in which we place others. “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave or free, male or female because all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”
Helen and Rev. Sam Rogers are a retired clergy couple. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.