Paul and Christian Differences in 1 Corinthians

The current series of epistle readings in the Revised Common Lectionary emphasize the importance of unity within the Christian church. The readings are drawn from the first three chapters of Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth. It doesn’t matter, Paul says, which Christian leader you and your associates identify with or what kind of label you apply to yourselves. It doesn’t even matter whether you were born a Jew or a Gentile. What matters is the truth of the Gospel as Paul preached it. Divisions along party or ethnic lines reveal, at best, an immature understanding of the Christian faith. In effect, these divisions deny the truth and power of Christ’s work on the cross.

If you read the entire letter, however, you will not find Paul advocating “think and let think” Christianity or unity at any price. In the chapters that follow, Paul addresses a number of issues that divided the church at Corinth. Paul’s response to differences in belief and practice range from “that’s a great thing to celebrate” to “how horrible that you would even consider this.” It all depends on the matter under consideration.

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For Freedom Christ has set us Free

Galatians 5:1, 13-25

In a little over a week, Americans will celebrate their nation’s 240th birthday. Independence Day. July 4, 1776. That’s when we told the king of England, “You can’t tell us what to do.” Liberty, we declared, is an inalienable right of every human being.

Freedom! You can’t tell me what to do! At least that’s how a lot of people seem to understand the meaning of freedom.

In our reading from Galatians, however, the apostle Paul writes about a very different kind of freedom:

For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1)

Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia is one of his most passionate.  In the first four chapters, Paul argues forcefully for a simple idea.  Christians, Paul argues, are free from bondage to the Law given through Moses.

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Luther, To Put on Christ in Law and Gospel

On Galatians 3:27:

To “put on Christ” may be understood in two ways, according to the Law and according to the Gospel. According to the Law as in Romans 13:14, “Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ,” which means to follow the example of Christ.

To put on Christ according to the Gospel means to clothe oneself with the righteousness, wisdom, power, life, and Spirit of Christ. By nature we are clad in the garb of Adam. This garb Paul likes to call “the old man.” Before we can become the children of God this old man must be put off, as Paul says, Ephesians 4:29. The garment of Adam must come off like soiled clothes. Of course, it is not as simple as changing one’s clothes. But God makes it simple. He clothes us with the righteousness of Christ by means of Baptism, as the Apostle says in this verse: “As many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” With this change of garments a new birth, a new life stirs in us. New affections toward God spring up in the heart. New determinations affect our will. All this is to put on Christ according to the Gospel. Needless to say, when we have put on the robe of the righteousness of Christ we must not forget to put on also the mantle of the imitation of Christ.

Martin Luther’s Commentary on Galatians

Baptism and Covenant: A Galatians 3:28 Sandwich

Do you like this verse?

There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:28

That’s a wonderful – and very popular – line from Paul’s letter to the Galatians. How does this marvelous state of affairs come to be?

Pay attention to the verses that immediately precede and follow it. The unity of humankind is not a natural endowment, but a result of God’s work in the life of the church and the story of salvation. The gift of oneness among all human beings – Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female – is a work of baptism and covenant.

First, God creates this new social reality corporately and bodily through baptism, in which God works through our faith.

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. Galatians 3:26-27

It’s not that faith that simply leads to baptism or that baptism works apart from or in addition to faith. Rather, faith in Christ is at work in and through Christian baptism.

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