The Importance Of A Faith That Includes The Practice Of Love

July 16, 2006
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
Galatians 5:2-11

The Uncircumcised Christians

1. Today I read to you from Paul's epistle written to the church of Galatia. Repeatedly found in that [epistle] is the word "circumcision." Circumcision is the ritual of cutting the foreskin off from the male sex organ. A Jew was circumcised on the eighth day after birth. Then when he turned thirteen, he would become an adult (bar mitzvah means son of the law), and he would live by keeping the [Torah based] precepts of the law. When it comes to Jews, this matter of circumcision is a sign of the covenant with God and to be circumcised means that one will live by observing God's laws as [part of] the people of God. (Setting aside the issue of whether every Jew observes the law or not in actual practice, generally speaking, [circumcision] goes like I just said.) Or else, if a person is a Gentile, that is, a person who is not born a Jew, when he converts to Judaism he will undergo circumcision. He receives the sign of the covenant with God and from then on he will live observing the law as a Jew.

2. When you get circumcised like that, it's not a final step, but is tied to the observance of the law. The topic of discussion here is do the Galatian believers accept circumcision or do they not. Also, the church back then had a special circumstance in it, with which they were being confronted.

3. As you know, all of Jesus' disciples were Jews. All the first Christians were Jews. Churches only had Jews in them. The [males] were all circumcised and most of them had a high regard for the keeping of the law. However, before too long, the gospel had been communicated even to non-Jews. People not born Jewish believed in Jesus Christ, were baptized, and had become Christians.

4. It was Paul who took on a leading role in the evangelistic outreach to the Gentiles. Out of Paul's mission work, a church was established in Galatia as well. Most of those followers were not Jewish. They were uncircumcised Gentile Christians. They had no ties whatsoever to the precepts of the law, [to halakah and Torah]. Still as Gentiles they knew God's love, still as Gentiles they accepted Christ, still as Gentiles they were forgiven for their sins, still as Gentiles they were making their lives in an every day way as Christians. That was fine.

5. But, after Paul had left, Jewish teachers had entered into [the church]. They insisted that even the Gentile Christians receive circumcision as a sign of the covenant with God and that they ought to keep the precepts from the law. They said they wouldn't be saved unless they did. This doctrine would extend considerable influence. You can probably see why. To be saved you must keep the law. You must become a righteous person. It's easy to understanding that teaching. What's more, you'd have to think it had to be right because the Jewish Christians with seniority over them said so. Therefore, they had accepted the claims insisted upon by the Jewish Christians and a people, who accepted circumcision for salvation, had arisen. But, Paul stood head-on against such a doctrine as something that was distorting the truth of the gospel.

How Much Should [I] Pay?

6. Well, probably not a single one of us here is a Jew. We're Gentiles. I don't think [the issue of] whether or not we as Gentiles should accept circumcision and ought to keep the law has ever been an item on the agenda for the church board; most likely it never has. In that sense, what is written here seems like it has almost nothing at all to do with us, doesn't it? However, that is not the truth of the matter. A most important subject matter is being addressed here, to which we must listen by all means.

7. Try to imagine it just a bit then. You want to give a present to somebody you love. Since it's a present for a loved one, you spend days and days and days thinking it all out, and then you have it all ready with your whole heart. At long last the day arrives for you to hand it [to your special someone]. You lovingly hand the present over. Your partner receives it. He or she makes one response. "Thank you. Er, how much should I pay?"

8. What do you all think? It sounds sad to me. It would be a shame. But, that's the very kind of thing that Paul is taking issue with here. Human beings frequently take up attitudes like that towards God. God has spent time and made a present ready. He has spent years in millennia over it, and through his complete love God has prepared the gracious gift of salvation to deliver it to humankind. But, when he tries to present it over to people, they usually say, "How much should I pay?"

9. People are much too used to dealing in transactions. Therefore, we'll try to buy even the gift of love, God's salvation, by paying something for it. We'll try to obtain salvation in exchange for human deeds. As I said before, it's easier to understand a teaching like that. Therefore, Paul spoke like this, "On this I Paul make a declaration. If you accept circumcision, Christ will become of no service to you. I say clearly once more to all those who accept circumcision. Such a person has the duty to perform the entire body of the law," (verses two and three).

10. Where he says "you [plural]," [he means] the Gentile Christians of Galatia, [He means] those forgiven of their sins just because of the cross of Christ. [He means] those who have known that they were saved just through the grace of God because of [the cross]. Their accepting the doctrine that "You will not be saved unless you keep the law by being circumcised" and their receiving of circumcision is like they had stopped accepting salvation as a gracious present and as if they were asking "How much should I pay?"

11. With that Paul said, "If you do not receive salvation as grace, but whenever one attempts to purchase it through paying a price, you must pay the entire sum. Do you know that it becomes a ridiculous amount?" That's what he is saying in verse three. "I say clearly once more to all those who accept circumcision. Such a person has the duty to perform the entire body of the law." The entire body of the law -- He says that's the price. When one tries to obtain salvation by keeping the law, one must keep all the laws perfectly. In other words, one must be a completely righteous person.

12. Of course, no one here is trying to obtain salvation in exchange for "keeping the law by receiving circumcision." But, other things, though, may be ingredients for transactions with God unconsciously. Good works and ministry may become such ingredients. Since I'm a good person, please save me. Since I am ministering with all my might, please save me. No, and that's not all, baptism, the Lord's Supper, and even worshipping may turn into them. [Oh, God] that [you] would please save me because I am doing this whole church lifestyle thing so seriously.

13. [Hey] everybody, these are truly all gifts of God's grace: Baptism, the Lord's Supper, worship, church life, church fellowship, ministry, or anything whatever; they are not ingredients for dealing in transactions with God. At the most fundamental level, all of it is given by way of grace. Along with forgiveness of sins it is given by means of the cross of Christ, as gracious gifts that just come from one direction, [God's]. Therefore, we ought to receive them with thanksgiving as gracious gifts. But, when we don't understand them as gifts of grace, without realizing it, we'll end up changing them into deteriorated things "we must perform" in order to obtain salvation.

14. Whenever we try to obtain salvation through some kind of behavior, we must keep all the laws of God perfectly. We [would] have to be recognized by God as righteous by our own actions. Those who try to do business deals with God must pay an absurdly large sum -- and paying it is impossible to do.

The Importance Of A Faith That Includes The Practice Of Love

15. So, the root [question} is not "How much should I pay?" but "How should I be?" Paul says it like this, "The realization of the hope of [our] being justified, we earnestly wait in hope for it based on faith and through 'the spirit.' If we are joined to Christ Jesus, the presence or absence of circumcision is not the issue, but the very faith itself that includes the practice of love is indeed important," (verses five and six).

16. Since the obtaining of salvation, in which we will be saved, is different from the acquiring of something by paying a price for it, it ought to be expressed through the word, "wait in hope." We wait in hope [for it]. By just reaching out our hands to receive it, we wait in hope. To reach out with one's hands is but faith. Thus, we have faith, we wait in hope, and then we receive.

17. In regard to this, in contrast to the case where you give somebody a present as I had you imagine doing a bit earlier, we'll understand well if we try standing on the receiving side of the present. Somebody decides to give you a present, which he or she took a long time and got ready with his or her heart [in it]. "Here you are, I am giving you this." Whereupon, not being foolish and asking "How much should I pay?" instead you decide to simply reach out your hands and say "Thank you!" It will take a certain extent of time until the present moves from the hands of the giver into your own hands. Even though there is a point in time in which you still have not actually grasped the present physically, you have already received "the love" itself from the giver. Therefore, even though it is not yet actually in your hand, you have already experienced the most important part of the present. So, you're happy. So, you have enjoyment. I'd say that's how it is. -- We are in the moment of time just a bit. "Waiting in hope" means exactly that.

18. Paul says, "the realization of the hope of [our] being justified (in a literal translation, 'the hope of righteousness'), we are waiting in hope for it." The salvation that we're about to be handed is expressed with various terms in the Bible. To enter the kingdom of God. To inherit the kingdom of God. To meet with the Lord face to face. To be set free from sin and death. To be given a resurrection body. To have a share in the glory of God. To one day [have] God himself wipe away every one of the tears from our eyes. Yes, indeed, that time is coming. But, it has not yet been realized. We certainly do not have it in hand yet. But, it has already been prepared according to God's love, and it has been presented to us in Jesus Christ, and it is ready to be handed over to us as we reach out our [believing] hands for it. It is not in our hands yet, but we have already received the very love of God itself. We're just waiting for later, when we'll have the present itself in our hands.

19. Therefore, the important thing in this is just faith alone. Said another way, we are to keep reaching out with our hands. We are to keep reaching out with our hands not to pay a price, but to receive salvation with thanksgiving. It's no different whether one is a circumcised Jewish Christian or an uncircumcised Gentile Christian. The important thing is faith.

20. In regard to this important [thing of] "faith," Paul added a few words and expressed it as "the faith that includes the practice of love." If translated literally, it would be "a faith that works through love." Said another way, it would be a faith that has become one with love. Why are "faith" and "love" being connected together? -- It is because responding to "love" with "love" is the most appropriate way to be.

21. Please think about when you receive a present once more. Upon receiving a present prepared with love, to ask "How much should I pay?" is foolish, but similarly, it is also foolish to reach out your hand without much thought in it and say, "Since you're giving it to me for free, I'll take it." This [next statement] says that [in a way]: "Since I'm being saved by grace, I should ask how I should live. The important thing is faith alone, though." Obviously neither of them is an appropriate way of receiving.

22. The best way to be in accepting the salvation that God has given to us with love is to reach out our hands with a love in which we also love God [back]. The appropriate response to love is "love." And loving God [back] whose love for us never quits should be the act of loving our neighbors. We cannot separate loving God from loving [our] neighbors. It is the love that loves God, the love that loves others -- the important thing is the faith alone which includes the practice of that love. That is the response to God's love, and it is the way we are to wait in hope, as we await salvation.